“We just knew instinctively that the time had come for a change. It wasn’t even really a case of the quantity it was just the fact that we were using them.”
And in case you’re in any doubt as to what Hawksmoor Group’s Creative Coordinator and Head of Sustainability Emmy van Beek is referring to, let her explain: “Earlier this year a number of people within the business had the same thought process – why are we using plastic straws?”
In a business where cocktails are the joint biggest selling drink, this had the potential to be a big change in operations and a hugely positive way forward for the business.
Why the War on Straws?
This lightbulb moment was occurring across a number of restaurant and pub groups, in part inspired, if that’s the right word, by a hideous video that went viral of a turtle with a straw up its nostril. It was a striking, emotive image representing a huge issue. In the US alone, 500 million straws are used daily – yes daily. And as this poor turtle is proof, many of them end up in the sea, in whole or part. Predictions are that by 2050 plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish.
The Breakfast Club’s Charities and Communities Manager Eva Arnaiz spells out the issue simply: “As a business we were using over 400,000 a year. A stick of plastic, used once, for 20 minutes that will stay on our planet for over 200 years. The issue lies with our everyday habits- trying to get people to change what they’ve been doing for so long.”
How to go to War on Straws
The penny dropped at Oakman Inns HQ at the same time, in April. Helena Ellis says: “Our monthly consumption – and disposal – of over 100,000 single use plastic straws per month across the estate was an environmental challenge as well as being incredibly wasteful.”
Within days, with the full support of CEO Peter Borg-Neal, Helena had set in train the removal of all plastic straws from all of the group’s 18 pubs, in time for World Earth Day on 22 April.
Changed happened fast at Hawksmoor too, back of house certainly, where bar staff had their plastic tasting straws replaced with smart new reusable metal ones. Next, to front of house. Emmy says: “We came to the conclusion that the majority of drinks, didn’t need a straw.” Frozen cocktails and drinks with crushed ice were the only ones to beat the plastic purge. And now only about 10% of cocktails use a straw. At The Breakfast Club customers now only get a straw with their milkshake or cocktail.
Honourable mention also goes to bar group All Bar One, who removed straws across their estate after being inspired by Oakman Inns #strawssuck.
You’re Winning the Straw War, now for the Recycling Battle
Removing the plastic straws seems for all three of these operators to have been the relatively straightforward bit.
Oakman shared with its customers some comms provided by the Straws Suck campaign to explain their overnight switch and staff needed little persuading. But the next stage, finding an alternative for those drinks like ice heavy cocktails and drinks for young children posed more of a challenge… “Finding an alternative straw our customers would be happy to use instead of plastic was tricky” says Helena.“Finding a perfect alternative straw was made more difficult by the low cost of plastic straws, unnoticeable for a family at home but hugely expensive in quantities of 100,000. However, any increase in unit cost was of course offset by a lower overall consumption.”
After a thorough search, Oakman has settled on replacements: Lockhart paper straws for the drinks that require longer ones and a Vegware PLA one instead of the thinner plastic straws. These are PLA bioplastic, compostable and disposed of in food bins.
A clear, non-bendy biodegradable straw is now what adorns drinks at Hawksmoor. But the business isn’t 100% sure it has come up with the ultimate solution just yet. Emmy says: “I am keen to see if we can’t find a better solution and that mean a different straw. Is there a straw out there that is perfect for anaerobic digestion?”
For the 20% of drinks that still require drinks at The Breakfast Club, these will very shortly be switched to biodegradable ones.
Removing something many customers have become used to could be tricky, so how have the straw musketeers communicated with their customers?
Emmy at Hawksmoor Group says staff have a secret supply of straws in case customers ask for them. “But to be honest that really hasn’t happened very often. I think people are much more conscious about the issue now and so don’t think to ask. We’ve considered what we should do in terms of communicating to customers overtly and I think when we publish the new menu at Foxlow we will include a message about our new straw policy.”
Customers and staff have responded equally positively at The Breakfast Club. Eva explains: “If a customer requests one, we explain why we’re doing what we are and usually they understand and are positive about our environmental efforts. The response from staff has been overwhelmingly positive, with many proving to be very passionate about our environmental efforts.”
Are you ready to take up arms?
These three businesses, and there are many more, both SRA members and others, who have gone to war with the straw recently – and are winning. As Emmy from Hawksmoor says, there’s more to be done but by tackling the issue head on they have already made a major difference.
“For now, I am really happy that we have stopped buying plastic straws and we’re not perpetuating that industry. We’re not perfect on this issue yet, but we’re using a lot less straws than we were and they are not plastic.”
And as a footnote, look out for the unveiling of a sculpture made from the stock of straws Oakman Inns withdrew from service.
Top Tips for surviving the Straw War
- Calculate how many straws you use each month
- Review which drinks really need straws, if any
- Review the options for alternative straws
- Provide a straw only when requested by a customer
- Provide either compostable or reusable straws
- Or get rid of straws completely
“We hope to learn from others in the industry and continue to make progress. May the Straw Wars force be with you!”
Download our plastic toolkit here: thesra.org/plastic