Stop Sucking: St. Louis restaurants join no-straw movement

A sign proclaiming “Straws Suck!” greets patrons entering The Crow’s Nest in Maplewood.

“500 million straws are used and discarded every day in the United States alone,” the sign continues. “Single-use plastics like straws are used once, for a few minutes, then last hundreds of years. By 2050, plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean. Plastic to-go orders is the source of 200,000 tons of plastic pollution in our waterways and oceans.”

The owners of the ’90s grunge-themed restaurant, Eliza Coriell and Kenny Snarzyk, put the sign up four months ago to explain why they would now only give plastic straws only to diners who ask for one – and they aren’t the only ones.

The #StopSucking, #BeStrawFree, #TheLastPlasticStraw, #NoStrawPlease and other campaigns aimed at reducing Americans’ plastic straw usage have hit St. Louis in a big way. The Green Dining Alliance reports dozens of local establishments now offer straws only upon request.

the no-straw policy at the crow's nest is prominently displayed outside the restaurant. // photo by michelle volansky

It's easier to rack up the single-use plastics count than you might think. At a popular burger spot in town, my husband and I received two waters and two teas at the start of our meal, and each came with a straw. Refills came with new straws, too. We ended up using seven straws between the two of us by the end of our meal (my husband drinks a lot of sweet tea).

Though some quibble over the exact number of plastic straws used each year, the National Restaurant Association and the U.S. National Park Service both back the claim. The Crow’s Nest kitchen manager Robert Marsh said his customers have barely noticed the change to the straw policy. “It’s so bizarre how easy it was to make that transition without any real push back,” he says.

Olivia Edwards is the manager at Pin-Up Bowl in The Loop, and she said her customers think the new straw policy is awesome.

“If people ask why we only give straws on request, I tell them it’s a more environmentally conscious decision we’re making,” she said. “We’re trying to save those little baby turtles. People are like, ‘We fully support that.’”

eleven eleven mississippi uses compostable straws instead of plastic. // photo by michelle volansky

Some of St. Louis’s fine-dining restaurants are also part of the no-straw movement, too. Eleven Eleven Mississippi partner Jason Arnold said his team has been providing straws only upon request for three years. When a customer does need a straw, the restaurant uses compostable straws, not paper. “You don’t even notice a difference in their mouth feel,” Arnold said.

While restaurants are cutting back on straw use, disability advocate organizations stress the necessity of straws for some diners. Dr. Melanie Kozak specializes in physical therapy and volunteers with Special Olympics.

“Some people with disabilities have difficulties with efficiently picking up a cup or controlling the ascent of the cup up to their mouth,” she said. “In those situations, leaning down into a straw is a necessity for them to access the drink.”

Diners looking to cut back on single-use plastic can order drinks at any establishment without a straw, and customers who need or want straws can also bring their own. Final Straw is a metal straw that collapses into a case that fits on a key chain.

“You should be able to save the environment and still help people,” Kozak said. “That’s the best-of-both-worlds option.”

Shannon Cothran is a freelance journalist in St. Louis.