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Orange County campaign shows residents, businesses how straws 'suck'

single use plastics
Jenna Hynes, a first-year undecided major, grabs a disposable straw at Ram's Head Market. Plastic straws are the 11th most widely found trash in the ocean.

Orange County has declared March 2019 as “Skip the Straw” month, which is part of a larger campaign to reduce single-use plastics of all kinds. 

Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich said the purpose of this campaign is to educate people on why they should not use plastic straws, and it involves efforts like getting the service industry to participate. 

“That's the only way to make people recognize they’re using single-use plastics for a matter of minutes, and it won’t go away for 50 years,” she said. “It’s one of those realities.”

To promote the campaign, free screenings of the film “Straws” will be held in Varsity Theatre on March 25 and Orange County Public Library on March 26.

“Straws” is a 30-minute documentary that examines the impact of plastic pollution and aims to empower individuals to be part of the solution.

Linda Booker, the movie's director, said her motivation to make this film came from the huge increase in plastic litter in places she had visited, especially her hometown in Chatham County. 

“‘Straws’ came to me in 2016, as an idea of focusing on one object that can be sort of a starting talking point for the much larger problem of pollution globally,” she said. “So I hope the audience’s takeaway is that they are not overwhelmed by what is now, what we consider now, a crisis.”

Booker said she has seen an increase in awareness of plastic pollution since she started research for her film. 

“We’re now seeing this enormous swell of awareness and policy change, and campaigns like the one that Orange County is doing, I’m just really thrilled to see it happen in the area that is home for me," she said.

Local author and artist Bryant Holsenbeck will read from her book “The Last Straw,” which documents the year she spent without single-use plastic, on March 26 after the film screening. 

Holsenbeck said she has been personally engaged with the “Skip the Straw” movement for years.

“That was one of the things I had to deal with,” she said. “When I did that in 2010, it’s just trying to get people to not put a straw in my drink.”

She said it’s good for people to think about whether they really need a straw.

Blair Pollock, solid waste planner for Orange County Solid Waste Management Department, said the department is encouraging restaurants to only provide straws upon customers’ request. The next steps, he said, are to convert to a compostable straw and then to not use straws at all. 

Pollocks said interns in the department have been talking to local businesses and promoting the idea of skipping straws. 

Early adopters of “Skip the Straw” include 411 West, Bonchon, Carolina Coffee Shop, Carrboro Pizza Oven, Four Corners, Franklin Hotel, Kurama, Midici, Linda’s Bar and Grill, Lula’s, Glasshalfull, Spotted Dog, Perennial, Purple Bowl, Radius, Squids and Weaver Street Market. The county plans to recognize all businesses that adopt the policy.

Jeff Mauldin, owner of Carrboro Pizza Oven, said he is inspired by restaurants in the Outer Banks that are using paper straws or bucatini pasta, which is spaghetti with a hole in the center. 

He said whether restaurants will end up skipping straws depends on their community.

Zachary Fields, manager at The Spotted Dog, said the restaurant switched to compostable straws about two and a half years ago, said they joined the campaign because they want to become more eco-friendly. However, Fields recognized the difficulty that businesses may face in not using plastic straws.  

“It’s an economic issue,” he said. “Plastic straws are much cheaper than corn plastic or even paper straws, so being a green business means that you’re spending more money, and unfortunately, not every business can afford to do that.”

Oliver Eisenbeis, a bartender at Midici, said it is a beneficial campaign because it is also a waste for the restaurant to throw away unused straws everyday. 

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“Personally, I think it’s great," he said. "I’m really excited to see the documentary, and it’s something that I’ve kind of believed for a while now, so I’m excited to to see it spreading into the local community as well.” 

Businesses and residents can take the pledge to “Skip the Straw” online.


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