Since 2017, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has partnered with 94 coastal restaurants in Florida to switch to paper straws or only offer plastic straws on request. While participating restaurant owners initially change their straw policies to protect sea turtles, they’ve also found an unexpected benefit: more customers.
Consumers are increasingly using their wallets to bring forth the change they wish to see in the world. According to a 2014 Nielsen survey, fifty-five percent of global online consumers were willing to pay more for products and services from companies that committed themselves to helping the environment.
One participating restaurant owner, Don Samora of the historic Beachcomber restaurant in St. Augustine, has seen this shift firsthand. Samora first decided to rethink how the Beachcomber distributed plastics during a remodel of the restaurant. After removing a wooden beachfront deck, Samora saw hundreds of plastic straws on the sand beneath it. At that moment, he vowed to only use paper straws and has since stopped offering plastic bags, cutlery and Styrofoam.
“If you look at it per straw, [paper straws] may be a little bit more expensive,” Samora said. “But it’s brought us more business.” He regularly receives positive feedback about the paper straws and has gained new customers after making the change.
Rhett Fischer of Rusty’s Seafood & Oyster Bar in Cape Canaveral also said that people are visiting his restaurant because they are “going green.”
Restaurant owners participating in STC’s straw program say that nearly all customers understand why they stopped using single-use plastics. For those who don’t understand why they aren’t being offered a plastic straw, STC provides educational coasters and signs to each participating restaurant
to remind customers that plastic consumed on land can impact sea turtles. The signage also inspires guests to reduce plastic consumption in their own lives.
Jim Scherer, owner of Broke N Bored Grill in Redington Shores, believes it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches up.
“I run my business how I would like the rest of the world to be,” he said. “I believe that plastic is on its way out, and it takes someone starting the conversation to make it happen.”
If you’d like your local restaurant to join STC’s straw program, email Stacey Gallagher at Stacey@conserveturtles.org. To see what restaurants are already participating in the program, visit Reducing Plastic Waste.