Sarah Steinwand wants to rid Jackson Hole of straws.
She calls them useless — pesky plastic pollutants that only add to the growing number of items ending up in dumps and oceans.
Americans use an average of 500 million straws a day, and straws are among the top 10 marine debris items, wedged between bottle caps and plastic bags.
“Straws have always been something that bothered me,” she said. “They’re useless and create a ton of waste.”
Steinwand is at the helm of Straw Free Jackson Hole, an initiative she started last fall to try to rid the community of straws. Or at least reduce their use.
“It’s a small step,” she said, “but could really help reduce plastic waste.”
Steinwand approaches restaurants in her free time and tells them about her movement. She suggests a more sustainable option to owners, managers and staff: offer straws only to customers who request one.
But the change hasn’t been as simple as it may seem.
It’s difficult for restaurants to eliminate straws entirely. Many customers expect them, and straws are often used as stirrers for cocktail drinks, said Josh Woodbury, a server at Trio.
“It’s not as easy as you think,” he said. “The way our culture is, people certainly have an expectation.”
Other restaurants are taking a different route to reducing waste, finding biodegradable, compostable or reusable alternatives like paper, bamboo, stainless steel or corn-based-plastic straws.
Local has replaced plastic stirrer straws with ones made of birch wood. The restaurant has also started placing orders for biodegradable straws from Eco-Products, said Josh Hirschmann, manager and sustainability coordinator.
Local has looked to more eco-friendly alternatives instead of axing straws entirely, worrying restaurant-goers will see the absence of straws as a sign of poor service. Hirschmann has also considered the additional time and trips that may be spent for servers who have to run back to get straws for those who request them.
Switching to products made of recyclable material has helped the restaurant address both of these issues, while cutting down on plastic waste and possibly providing a model for other Jackson businesses, he said.
“I try to do this is a way that demonstrates that it is better business,” he said. “I want to present items in a way that other businesses can adopt them.”
Jackson isn’t the first community where an effort like this has arisen. In 2012 commissioners in Miami Beach, Florida, amended a local litter ordinance to ban plastic straws to prevent pollution on their beaches.
Should Steinwand’s initiative be successful in Jackson it could serve as inspiration for even more towns, she said. Beyond Local and Trio, other restaurants that adhere to straw-free standards include Persephone Bakery, Healthy Being Organic Vegetarian Cafe and Juicery, Grand Teton Lodge and Signal Mountain Lodge.
At Trio, Woodbury said, thinking about straw usage is a natural segue to thinking about other types of waste.
“When you work at a place,” he said, “you see how much waste there is on a daily basis.”
Woodbury sees Jackson as an ideal community for a straw-free crusade.
“This place is based on the purity of the environment, so why would we want to trash it?” he said.
He also hopes to see the town go a step further by passing an ordinance to eliminate plastic bags. Though the town and county signed a resolution April 3 pledging support for sustainability initiatives, there haven’t been many specifics.
“All these things take resources and planning and logistics,” he said. “You can’t just snap your fingers and make it happen.”