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Foodservice Takes Plastic Straws Off the Menu

Plastics straws are in the cross hairs in public outrage over pollution, and the hospitality industry is at work to respond.

According to the National Geographic Society, an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic waste enters the world’s ocean from coastal regions every year. And consumers are paying attention to that fact.

In the cross hairs are plastics straws, and the hospitality industry is responding fast by phasing out their use. Big players including Starbucks, American Airlines and Royal Caribbean are now at work to do just this.

The hospitality industry as well is on board with the trend. Hyatt Hotels says it will offer plastic straws and drink picks only upon request starting Sept. 1. Big industrial foodservice company Bon Appetit says it will ban all plastic straws and stirrers in 1,000 restaurants in 33 states, and expects to have them completely phased out by 2019, according to Time. The company bought almost 17 million plastic straws in 2017, Time says.

BYE-BYE, PLASTIC Earlier this month, MGM Resorts International announced that single-use plastic straws will be served only upon request at company-operated restaurants in the U.S. “This initiative, which began rolling out in May 2018, aims to eventually remove more than 250,000 straws a day from landfills and waterways—that's 100 million straws each year,” management says.

Both single-use plastic "stir straws" and drinking straws have been removed from MGM’s casino floors, buffets, cafes, bars and lounges, as well as dining outlets. Straws will still be available to customers upon request.

"We began the pilot program here in Las Vegas in the beginning of May at ARIA and Mandalay Bay," said Timothy Ryan, MGM’s vice president food and beverage strategy. "The response from customers has been so positive we have decided to quickly train our employees at all our U.S. resorts to stop automatically serving single-use straws."

CATERERS AHEAD OF GAME Some caterers interviewed by Special Events are ahead of the game in moving away from plastic straws and stirrers.

“We stopped using plastic straws about four years ago and have only been using compostable paper straws,” says Jeff Ware, director of operations for Morton Grove, Ill.-based  Catering by Michaels. “We are working on phasing out plastic stirrers and transitioning to wood by the end of this year.”

What prompted the change? “Several years ago, we decided we needed to make our business practices more sustainable because it was the right thing to do for ourselves and the planet,” Ware says. “Since then we have completely transformed our operations to be one of the greenest caterers in the U.S. We don’t do a great deal of publicity around it and have gotten little PR. The change was more about doing what felt right and made our employees feel good about the work they do.”

The company is turning to plastics alternatives. “We are using paper straws and wood,” Ware says.

And the switch has not been a big hurdle: “It’s great that straws are getting this amount of attention because it’s a relatively easy change for most operators,” Ware explains. “As an industry, we are still one of excess and waste, and can do so much more to reduce our footprint but it will take much harder work than buying different straws.”

The team at Contemporary Catering in Los Angeles turns to compostable and recyclable products as they come to the market.

THE BIGGER PICTURE But switching out straws is only part of the big picture. “This is beyond straws,” says proprietor/executive chef Nathaniel Neubauer. “We are currently focusing on large-format water sources at events to eliminate the use of single-serve bottles.”

He adds, “While straws have become a hot-button issue, and people are using it as a marketing ploy, we hope that the event community sees the bigger picture as a set of values and principles focusing on sustainability isn’t a trend--it’s a necessity for all of our good."


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