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Citizens, Restaurateurs Reduce Plastic Pollution Through 
The Last Plastic Straw

According to the California-based nonprofit Plastic Pollution Coalition, over 500 million plastic straws are used each day in the United States. In today’s on-the-go culture, straws are typically used only for a short time and then discarded, ultimately becoming a source of plastic pollution in oceans and waterways.

Seeing this deluge of single-use plastic straws and other plastic litter on South Shore Beach prompted local massage therapist and wellness coach Marla Schmidt to take action. Whenever weather permits, Schmidt regularly visits beaches to pick up plastic litter. However, she says that individual and organized beach cleanups aren’t enough: people have to change their habits in order to stop generating so much plastic waste in the first place.

Through her Facebook page, Facebook.com/catchofthedaymke, and a monthly column in the Bay View Compass newspaper, Schmidt shares photos of how much plastic debris she finds along South Shore Beach. She also provides links to articles as well as tips on how we can reduce plastic usage.

“My goal is not to keep picking up plastic trash, it’s to create awareness of what a problem it is, and to encourage people to stop creating plastic waste in the first place,” Schmidt says. “If you don’t know what the problem is, you’re just not aware. But as soon as you have awareness, that’s when you can change habits and make a different choice. Convenience plastics are so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even see it anymore.”

Schmidt started with plastic straws, since they are continuously among the top items polluting oceans and waterways, yet one of the easiest ways people can create change. She found that Plastic Pollution Coalition, in conjunction with Lonely Whale Foundation, introduced The Last Plastic Straw campaign where restaurants and taverns can take a pledge on the website (TheLastPlasticStraw.org) to distribute straws only upon request, rather than automatically putting them into customers’ drinks. Businesses also agree to transition to paper straws.

Since late last year, Schmidt has approached area restaurants and convinced the owners of Bowls, Mistral, Sheridan’s Boutique Hotel and Café, LuLu Café, juniper61 and The National Café to take The Last Plastic Straw pledge.

Andy Larson, who owns Bowls and Float Milwaukee, started participating in The Last Plastic Straw in January after Schmidt, his customer, approached him with the idea. “It did not take her long to convince me how this is the right thing to do for our restaurant, our staff, our customers and our community,” says Larson. “We are in the process of working through our back stock of plastic straws, given only upon request now for in-house orders, and we have a supply of paper straws ready to go once the plastic ones are depleted.”

Larson says his customers and staff are completely on board. “It is such an easy way to show that we care about the world and want to do what we can to help, even as a new local restaurant,” he adds.

Jane Schilz and her husband, Lee Barczak, own Sheridan’s Boutique Hotel and Café as well as Mistral restaurant, located in the Avalon Theater. Schilz began implementing The Last Plastic Straw campaign in December. She simply removed the straws from the bar area so that they are no longer visible, and Julie Zweifel, her marketing/web and graphic designer, created tent cards to place on tables to inform customers that straws are available only upon request, and why. The cards have helped open dialogue about how straws pollute the environment.

“I would say that only about one in five customers still asks for a straw,” Schilz says. She’s also testing paper straws for use in the theater, and they may implement a reusable cup program as well.

Schmidt emphasizes that consumers truly have power to create change. “We can force companies to change if we reject plastic,” she says. She has a template available for people to download and print cards to leave at establishments in order to encourage owners to participate in The Last Plastic Straw campaign.

Learn More

Many people are working toward building awareness of the detrimental effects that single-use plastic has on our environment. Learn more about their efforts and what you can do.

Plastic Pollution Coalition – a global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses and policymakers working toward a world free from plastic pollution: PlasticPollutionCoalition.org/no-straw-please

Lonely Whale Foundation – strives to make impactful market-based changes on behalf of our oceans: LonelyWhale.org.

My Plastic Free Life – author and blogger Beth Terry shares how her unconscious over consumption habits changed, and provides tips on going plastic-free: MyPlasticFreeLife.com

Marla Schmidt can be reached at Marla_Schmidt@Yahoo.com.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.

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