Tyler Bernadyn, a contributor to What'sUpNewp, launched The Last Straw on June 5, 2017

Last March, Newport became the second community in Rhode Island to ban single-use plastic carryout bags. This initiative was well-received by the community and is an important step in the war against plastic pollution. Now it’s time to take a stance against another unnecessary single-use plastic item, straws.

Each day, more than 500 million plastic straws are used and discarded in the United States alone. To put that number into perspective, that’s enough straws to wrap around the circumference of the earth two and a half times. As a hospitality town, it is imperative that we start to take this type of waste into consideration.

I bartend six nights a week. I see on a first-hand basis the amount of straws that are used during a single shift on my bar alone. For most of us, including myself, making a drink and putting a straw in it is seemingly habitual. If a guest orders 5 drinks during a sitting, that’s 5 single-use plastic straws for that one person alone. If you consider hypotheticals, those numbers add up quickly. More often than not, I see guys bend the straw over the side of their glass or simply discard the straw upon arrival.

Over the last few years, a global environmental campaign aimed at reducing single-use plastic straws has gained significant momentum. Communities across the world, from London to California, are turning away from these plastic tubes in hopes of promoting sustainability and protecting our world’s oceans.

The sea turtle has unintentionally become the face of the fight against plastic pollution after a video showing a sea turtle with a straw lodged in its nostril went viral. It’s easy to throw something away and not consider where it ends up but plastics directly affect marine life and wildlife everywhere.

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The Netflix documentary “A Plastic Ocean,” has been shown at Jane Pickens Theater, it is an eye-opening film that shows the lasting implications of plastic pollution on our oceans. Seeing the ramifications of such drastic pollution and how it directly affects our wildlife was certainly a reality check and inspired me to make a change.

This May, a video on the Facebook page ‘NowThis’ went viral after promoting a restaurant’s decision to go strawless. FREEHOLD, located in New York City, reduced their waste from 1.5 million straws per year to zero by simply saying no. The video has been viewed over 4 million times and public response is overwhelmingly supportive.

Bacardi, the world’s largest privately held spirits company, implemented their Better Spirits: Building a Sustainable Future campaign in 2016. An ambitious environmental campaign that will reduce the company’s waste significantly and puts them at the forefront of the spirits industry in corporate social responsibility. As part of the initiative, Bacardi has done away with single-use straws at the company and sponsored events throughout their portfolio.

Being born and raised in Rhode Island, I understand how valuable of an asset our beaches are in “The Ocean State.” Newport in particular, being a tourist destination and hospitality town, relies so heavily on the resources provided by our beautiful coastline.

Protecting our oceans, bays, and harbors should be at the forefront of each and every environmental discussion. Thankfully, there are so many fantastic non-profit organizations that keep the well-being of such treasures in mind. Save the Bay, Sailors for the Sea and Clean Ocean Access are prime examples of these groups and I am happy to say that I have paired up with Dave McLaughlin of Clean Ocean Access to make an idea a reality.

Dave’s organization was responsible for the recent legislation that banned single-use plastic bags on Aquidneck Island. Along with City Councilman and Senate Candidate John Florez, who is passionate about environmental issues and was another key figure in the city’s decision to ban plastic bags, Clean Ocean Access has agreed to work directly with me to get the ball rolling on my project, “The Last Straw.”

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The Last Straw is a local environmental campaign aimed at encouraging bars and restaurants across the state and specifically Aquidneck Island to reduce plastic pollution by moving away from single-use plastic straws. Whether that means finding alternative options, offering straws only upon request or getting rid of them completely, this initiative will bring an important aspect of unnecessary waste to people’s attention and hopefully inspire change. Change starts with education and ‘The Last Straw’ is my way of starting the discussion.

A handful of local establishments have already begun to make changes to their operations. Elisa Conte, co-owner of Plum Point Bistro in Jamestown, decided that straws were not a necessity and were detrimental to the environment. A restaurant built on the foundations of sourcing locally, sustainability and essentially ‘doing the right thing,’ Plum Point became one of the first restaurants in the state to move away from single-use plastic straws and only offer paper straws upon request.
“We decided as a restaurant that we were no longer going to serve plastic straws and we haven’t for close to four years,” says Conte, who proudly displays a pamphlet in the foyer of the restaurant that outlines their message. “Plastic pollution has touched all parts of the globe, even the most remote areas and islands. It’s not about fixing the problem all at once, it’s about personal responsibility and making a difference where you can.”

Newport restaurants are starting to follow suit and hopefully a snowball effect continues to take place throughout our community. Tavern on Broadway announced last month that they are making changes and are only offering paper straws upon request. John Flynn, General Manager of Tavern, wanted to be the first restaurant in Newport to be ‘ocean friendly’ and eliminate plastic straws completely.

Midtown Oyster Bar is replacing their plastic straws with a compostable alternative and will provide bamboo stirrers in place of plastic. Rich Willis at Caleb & Broad has made the change to compostable at his restaurant as well. I’m extremely proud that both places where I work in town are playing their part and joining the cause.

It’s easy to make a change. It’s as simple as just saying ‘no’ to plastic straws if you’re out and about or providing only upon request if you’re serving drinks. For bars and restaurants looking to switch, local food supply companies like Toppa’s Foodservice & Paper Supply offer compostable/biodegradable options for only a few cents more than plastic straws.

In the coming weeks, The Last Straw Campaign will be launching more marketing efforts with possible events to come. We will have a link to our cause available soon on the Clean Ocean Access website and we are working with a few companies in hopes of gaining corporate sponsorship. If you or your restaurant are interested in pledging to be part of our campaign, please feel free to email myself at TylerBernadyn@gmail.com or Dave McLaughlin at dave.mclaughlin@cleanoceanaccess.org.

Tyler Bernadyn
Tyler Bernadyn at Midtown Oyster Bar

Tyler Bernadyn is a local hospitality professional, bartending at Midtown Oyster Bar Wednesday through Sunday nights on the Burgee Bar and at Caleb&Broad on Monday nights for their award winning $10 entree dinner special.

Tyler is a graduate of Providence College and a true Rhode Islander, born and bred.

Email him at TylerBernadyn@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram at @tylerbernadyn.

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