When Surfrider Foundation Eastern Long Island Chapter Coordinator Colleen Henn began coining a phrase for the environmental group’s campaign to reduce plastic straw use, she wasn’t looking to the iconic 1966 surf documentary, The Endless Summer, about the search for the perfect wave, for inspiration.
Instead, it was more about a sense of urgency for the young environmentalist as she settled on Strawless Summer, though she would like to see the program go beyond the season.
“Maybe this will turn into endless strawless summer. We will see,” she said at the campaign’s launch party on May 1 at Provisions Natural Food Market and Organic Café in Sag Harbor. Attendees gathered in the grocery’s café to watch two screenings of the 2017 documentary, Straws, which touches on the movement to encourage people to use biodegradable or reusable straws. The movie features footage of bars of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean, as well as marine biologists removing a straw wedged inside a sea turtle’s nostril.
“It’s the gateway for more conversations on how to reduce plastics. I think more and more people are becoming aware of the negative impacts of plastics. Now, with the way information spreads so quickly, we can see the straw in the turtle’s nose in the blink of an eye,” said Henn, a 23-year-old East Hampton resident who was recently appointed to Suffolk County’s Single-Use Plastic
Reduction Task Force, which is charged with making recommendations to the legislature.
After the screenings, Henn gave instructions on how volunteers can encourage restaurants to join in the movement. To participate, restaurants must pledge to one of three criteria, including going completely strawless, providing biodegradable straws such as paper or bamboo, or offering reusable alternatives like stainless steel.
Businesses that take the pledge will be given a white sticker featuring a blue turtle, which has Surfrider’s wave drawn on its shell, for placement on their front door to let customers know the business is participating in the campaign.
To date, 15 restaurants have taken the pledge including Almond, the Montauk Beach House, Pierre’s, Rumba, and Cowfish, as well as Page, which hosted a happy hour after the screenings.
Provisions has not only taken the pledge, but its market is also selling a selection of reusable straws.
Provisions’ supplements manager Susan Blacklocke said the establishment does its best to bring education and awareness to the community.
“We feel strongly about sustainability and the environment. We do as much as we know we can to support that,” she said.
Eastern Long Island Chapter president Andrew Brosnan said the organization would like to make plastic straws the exception, as opposed to the rule.
“I find that more when I go into Manhattan; I see paper straws. What we are trying to do here is raise awareness about the alternatives,” he said. “What most people, who have restaurants, establishments, etc., have found by limiting the straws that they provide — even though paper straws tend to be slightly more expensive — [is that] they are using far fewer straws, so the cost ratio makes sense for most restaurants. Plus, from an environmental standpoint, we put billions of straws into the waste stream every year, and that’s tonnage, and it’s not necessary.”
At one recent beach cleanup in Greenport, volunteers picked up 922 straws.
County Legislator Kara Hahn, who chairs the Legislature’s Environment, Agriculture, and Planning Committee, received an invite to the event from Henn. Hahn regularly volunteers at beach cleanups near her home turf upisland and has downloaded an application by the Ocean Conservancy called Clean Swell, which allows her to track the amount of garbage that she has collected in her travels. Straws are one of the most frequent disposable items she finds.
“We want to bring Strawless Summer countywide, whether it is Skip the Straw Suffolk or Strawless Summer Suffolk. It might take longer than this summer, but I definitely want to expand this,” said Henn, noting some restaurants in Port Jefferson are already interested, and that even if the establishments started off small by designating straws “by request only,” it would help the environment.
As far as Henn sees it, any little bit will help.
“Strawless Summer is strictly targeting straws, but hopefully it opens up the conversation on how to reduce plastics on a bigger scale,” she said.
For more information, visit www.easternli.surfrider.org.