The Last Straw? Sustainability challenge in AZ encouraging more businesses to drop them

Updated: Jul. 2, 2019 at 10:26 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Think about the last time eating out in Downtown Tucson. Now, think about whether or not that drink had a straw in it.

If it didn't, did you ask for one? If so, you were probably at one of the restaurants that have adopted a "straws upon request" policy. A policy that's been gaining popularity over the past year and a half.

One of the businesses that's been leading the charge? Hotel Congress.

“Right now we’re gauging about 10,000 straws a week.” That’s how many straws Cup Cafe GM Herb Calleros said they’ve ditched per week since changing their policy over a year ago. Now, the only time a guest get one—is when they ask.

"Straws are always going to be optional,” said Calleros.

It’s an attempt to make sure that the things guests drink with in their restaurant—don’t end up in the washes and streets for a lifetime.

Because right now, that's where they're ending up.

"Even just walking a short stretch of the wash you can see plastic straws all over the place,” said Heatherlee Leary, who walked no more than a few feet before gathering a handful of trash inside the Arcadia Wash near Speedway Blvd and Arcadia Ave. In her hands she carried plastic lids, bottles, and of course, straws.

As Education and Outreach Coordinator for Tucson Clean and Beautiful, Leary wanted to pursue change. ChangeX to be exact. A sustainability challenge happening right now across our state.

According to the ChangeX website, it claims it "will help you to bring new sustainability projects to your community. Our $70,000 challenge, in partnership with Microsoft, is dedicated to helping you build thriving and sustainable communities across Arizona."

There is a total fund of $70,000 available to help support new community projects across Arizona. Each applicant who successfully completes a 30-Day Challenge and an Impact Challenge will receive funding amounts ranging from $500-$5,000 to help get their selected project off the ground.

That’s where Leary and her team stepped in, "We wanted to do something to empower people to do something about single use plastic waste.”

During these 30 days, the Last Plastic Straw movement seeks to "activate citizens through grassroots campaigning to encourage individuals to push for change in restaurant protocol and practices in their local communities. By becoming aware of the issue yourself and mobilizing a movement within your community to limit and ultimately eliminate the use of plastic straws, you can bring about wider behavior change and reduce the amount of single-use plastic damaging our planet."

According to ChangeX, over 1,800 restaurants, organizations, institutions, and schools worldwide have stopped using plastic straws or implemented a serve-straws-upon-request policy as part of the Last Plastic Straw movement. Businesses report a 60-90 percent reduction in plastic straw use and waste, resulting in significant financial savings.

Leary said they will start by approaching the businesses who have not jumped on the straw train.

"We’ll simply ask them can you implement a ‘straws upon request’ first policy?” said Leary.

It’s not the last straw just yet but now the public does have some options. Ones that come with some incentives.

Those who purchase a $9 glass straw at Hotel Congress, will get some freebies.

"Every time they come in, we’re going to offer them free beverages, you know for just kind of meeting us halfway,” said Calleros.

It’s just a simple taste of what Calleros and Leary hope will become long term change.

"We hope to continue this until we can get as many restaurants on board as possible. And then hopefully move onto other single use plastics such as plastic cups and lids,” said Leary.

To learn more about The Last Plastic Straw Tucson, visit:

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