Suck it up: Wall Street Plaza phasing out plastic straws

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If you order a drink at Wall Street Plaza, you might think something’s missing. There’s no straw.

With such high traffic coming through the seven venues in downtown Orlando, Wall Street is looking for ways to lessen their environmental impact.

“We’re not here to preach to people about environmental issues – we’re here for people to have a good time,” Wall St. Plaza Events and Marketing Director Paul Emery said. “But at the same time, if we can make some steps toward being environmentally friendly, we’d like to do that, and we hope our customers are okay with that.”

Plastic is everywhere – including the ocean. The American Association for the Advancement of Sciences reported that anywhere from four to 12 metric tons of plastic debris ended up in the ocean in 2010. According to the Ocean Conservancy’s annual cleanup data, straws are the seventh most found pollution during coastal cleanups. Orlando, a large city sandwiched between two coasts, could be a large cause of coastal pollution.

Wall St. Plaza has stopped providing straws with their drinks, except on request, to curb their environmental impact. Management started considering phasing out plastic straws when Matt Pearce, the manager at WaiTiki and Monkey Bar, proposed it.

A napkin caddy at WaiTiki on Wall Street is void of straws and sports a sticker to convince patrons to skip the straw. All seven Wall Street Plaza venues only provide straws on request to help curb their environmental impact. (Photo by S.T. Cardinal)

Then, an organization approached them and gave them the added push to implement the initiative.

“IDEAS For Us came to us and said they’re looking to kind of help promote this initiative and we said we like that initiative and we want to get on board,” Emery said. “It also kind of gave us the kind of camaraderie to know that other people were looking at the same initiative.”

IDEAS for Us is a nongovernmental organization that was founded at the University of Central Florida 10 years ago. The Hive is a program of IDEAS For Us in Orlando and brings community members together to talk about sustainability issues and implement them.

Sharon Hammond is the program director of The Hive. She said that phasing out straws is a way that restaurants can lessen their environmental impact at no cost to the business and is an all upside, no downside proposition.

But with any change comes resistance. Plastic straws are still being requested at Wall Street venues. Whether the reason is to stir their drink or to avoid germs, straws are still being used.

“Right now, we’re doing straws upon request, and then we are looking into paper straws as well,” Emery said. “So, right now we do have a mix of both and we’re kind of seeing if that would work for us as well.”

The impact of this initiative is still substantial, though. Emery said that Wall Street has gone from ordering 40,000 straws a month to 15,000 a month. Saving 25,000 straws from entering landfills or the oceans is a huge number, but eventually Emery said they want to completely phase out straws.

“I think it’s all about just stopping and thinking, ‘why the straw?’ It’s just one small thing that we can do to help in hopefully a big way,” Emery said. “Trying to change customers’ minds is a slower process. But I think once people realize why we’re doing it, I think the response has been positive. People are willing to give up their straws when they hear the reason.”

Straw use has become a habit. As a customer, you might expect a straw with your drink. As a server, giving straws after you drop off drinks becomes a part of your routine.

“Habits are hard to break for the customers and the wait staff and the bar staff. When we first implemented it, we found that a lot of bartenders, out of habit, were just putting straws in drinks because they had been doing it for years,” Emery said. “It was just part of the routine.”

As Wall Street looks to move forward with ways to lessen their environmental impact, they are not alone. Seattle just passed a plastic straw ban and Starbucks announced it won’t provide any straws with their drinks by 2020.

Wall Street and IDEAS For Us are trying to lead by example in downtown Orlando.

“We want to do what we can, and this seems like something that people will help us do,” Emery said. “We want our customers to help us conserve a little bit by refusing a straw. It’s a first step of hopefully many.”

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