Straw in glass of soda. PHOTO BY ADAM ANIK

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Stop grasping at straws!

If you go to a restaurant or takeout shop in the Montclair area, or if you’re a restaurant owner, that is what Clean Water Action would like you to do in December.

The clean water advocacy group is starting to partner with area restaurants on Straws By Request, a project to reduce the use of disposable plastics in restaurants.

This includes encouraging restaurants not to give out plastic straws with drinks unless the customer specifically requests one.

“The idea is to start with something small to get people thinking about their individual choices that contribute to pollution,” said Maura Toomey, a Montclair resident who is an organizer with Clean Water Action’s Montclair office.

Toomey is also a field manager for Clean Water Action’s canvassing projects.

Clean Water Action, based nationally in Washington, D.C., was founded in 1972 during the campaign for the federal Clean Water Act.

In New Jersey, Clean Water Action did a program with Jersey Shore restaurants earlier this year, managing the program out of its Long Branch office. This is the first year that Clean Water Action is trying the project in the Montclair area.

So far, the response from restaurants and the community has been positive, according to Toomey: “They all seem very conscious about it.”

Plastic straws and other disposable plastics are a major contributor to pollution in the world’s oceans.

“A lot of people are surprised,” Toomey said when asked how people react to learning about straws as a pollutant. “It kind of comes with more awareness now.”

“The one that gets me is the number of straws that we use in the United States every day,” Toomey said.

The website StrawFree.org estimates that Americans use about 500 million straws every day, enough to wrap around the world twice. “Seeing those numbers can really make an impact,” Toomey said.

Toomey said that as of Nov. 21, four restaurants had signed up: Plum on Park, Toast, Local and Vital. On Monday, she said that she was in talks with Pig and Prince. “Hopefully by the end of the week I’ll have some extra restaurants lined up.”

Depending on the success of the program, the next step will be to see how Clean Water Action could expand the disposable plastics program to other kinds of establishments. Toomey said she hoped to get more “fast casual” restaurants to participate, noting that they tend to use large numbers of single-use utensils and containers.

She also said Clean Water Action wants to work with local festivals and other community events to help them become more waste-free.

Montclair has a program that encourages businesses and restaurants to adopt more environmentally friendly policies, including reducing the use of disposable or nonrecyclable packaging. The Green Business Program is run in conjunction with Montclair State University.

More information about Straws By Request can be found on Clean Water Action’s website and Facebook page.