Saying No to Plastic Straws

When the weather starts heating up and you start ordering iced coffees and smoothies that come with plastic straws, think about where all those straws end up. Unfortunately, since plastic straws don’t decompose, most of them end up in a landfill or the ocean — forever.

“We’re really excited to be on the forefront of this. It’s important for this to be up-and-coming and we hope other restaurants in the area will implement this.”
–Christina Lennon

“The first straw we ever used is still on the planet,” says SOS Outreach mentor Amy Berry.

SOS Outreach programs offer at-risk youth, ages 8 to 18, outdoor experiential learning while instilling lifelong values and skills through the guidance of positive adult mentors. Every year, community service is encouraged for the students and after a summer of beach cleanup along the shores of Lake Tahoe, one group of SOS kids picked up a substantial amount of plastic straws.

The Last Straw
April 19 | 5:30 p.m.
UC Davis TERC | Sierra Nevada College | Incline Village, Nev.

Strawless Earth Day celebration
April 22 | 4 p.m. | Sunnyside | Tahoe City

“The kids came up with a plan to try to diminish the use of plastic straws and they did so in a complete silo. Then their mentor started doing research on it and saw that the politics are starting to fall around [the banning of plastic straws],” Berry says. “They started going to restaurants around the lake and asking the wait staff to only serve straws upon request.”

Tunnel Creek Café in Incline Village, Nev., is among the local eateries that has transitioned to biodegradable straws and hands them out only on request. At Waterman’s Landing in Carnelian Bay, paper straws are kept on a separate counter and patrons are directed to them upon request.

The Tahoe Restaurant Collection — Gar Woods, Riva Grill, Caliente! and Bar of America — is probably the largest and most influential Lake Tahoe chain to be proactive in switching out its straws. Their famous Wet Woodys now come with paper straws. One of the biggest arguments that restaurants have in switching out the straws is the sturdiness of paper and the costs associated with it. The Tahoe Restaurant Collection says that it finds other benefits in using the biodegradable version.

Tahoe’s infamous Wet Woody’s are now served with biodegradable paper straws. | Courtesy Gar Woods

“It’s five times more expensive to use paper over plastic, but it’s worth it,” says Gar Woods group sales manager Christina Lennon. “With paper we can print all of our logos on the straws, which also makes it a great marketing item. We sell them in packs of 25 and people can buy them and take them home to use for their own parties. You can print whatever you want on the straws.”

The restaurant group’s owner, Tom Turner, isn’t concerned about the additional expense, says Lennon.  “He wants to help the environment and likes the additional marketing exposure that the straws give. We’re really excited to be on the forefront of this. It’s important for this to be up-and-coming and we hope other restaurants in the area will implement this.”

As more information comes available about the harmful impact of plastic straws on the environment, some politicians and city councils are beginning to take a closer look at their usage by imposing ordinances and fines against eateries that freely hand out plastic straws.

In February 2018, the South Lake Tahoe City Council unanimously approved a measure for staff to begin drafting an ordinance banning polystyrene, used for takeout containers, while also limiting restaurants’ usage of handing out plastic straws and utensils. In a city-funded cost analysis, staff found that replacing polystyrene containers with a compostable one would cost an extra $.01 to $.08, according to South Lake Tahoe officials.

Is fining the restaurants really the answer, though? Consumers can do their part by requesting not to have a straw or simply supporting businesses that make a conscious effort to protect the environment. With Earth Day coming up, maybe it’s a good start to look inward and do what Berry says: “Think about it. See if you can go a month without using a straw.”

Kleen Kanteen will be giving away reusable stainless steel straws at its Strawless Earth Day celebration at Sunnyside on April 22. | Courtesy Alpenglow Sports

For more information about how to end the use of plastic straws, attend the “The Last Straw” event at U.C. Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center on the Sierra Nevada College campus in Incline Village on April 19 at 5:30 p.m. RSVP tahoe.ucdavis.edu/events/

Join Alpenglow Sports, Klean Kanteen and Keep Tahoe Blue at Sunnyside Restaurant and Lodge for an Strawless Earth Day celebration on April 22 at 4 p.m. Klean Kanteen will give away reusable stainless steel straws in a focused effort to keep Tahoe straw-less, while enjoying music, food and drink, and a film screening from Keep Tahoe Blue.