The Last Straw

Dallas eco-conscious EarthX event puts the kibosh on plastic straws

Dallas eco-conscious EarthX event puts the kibosh on plastic straws

Metal straws
Metal straws are a cool thing to carry around with you at all times. Photo courtesy of West Elm

A Dallas environmental organization has it in for plastic straws, and is stepping up with a plan to ban them. It's an initiative by EarthX, Dallas' annual Earth Day conference/expo and film festival, which is not just talking about straws but walking the walk.

They've decreed that this year's conference, which takes place April 20-22, will be a no-plastic-straw zone. No vendor or exhibitor can use plastic straws at their booths.

"We've just said that, if you're going to work with us, we don't use plastic straws," says EarthXFilm founder Michael Cain. "We made a commitment that the conference won't use plastic straws, and we've offered suggestions for alternatives."

There's also a place for the public to join in, with a "Strike Out Straws" campaign posted on the EarthX website.

"Thank you for coming to the rescue and standing with EarthX to Strike Out single use plastic straws," it says. "With your help we can strike out 1 million straws or more this year."

The Strike Out Straws campaign gets underway with the 2018 EarthXFilm festival, from April 13-22. The film festival is hosting a competition for students 12-21, challenging them to make a short film on why plastic straws should be banned.

"We knew we needed to get behind this," Cain says. "A million straws sounds like a lot, but we had to set a goal. We reached out to movie theaters and asked how many straws they use. One chain said they use 10 million straws a year – that's a little less than 1 million a month. You take small steps to reach your bigger goal. So if you were to skip straws for the month of April, that's 1 million straws."

Environmentalists have been protesting plastic straws — and other single-use plastic items such as to-go containers and beverage cups — for more than a decade. Plastic straws are now among the top 10 waste items found on beaches.

But it wasn't until 2015 that the horrors of straws hit home when a YouTube video surfaced showing a group of concerned folks trying to help a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose by pulling it out with pliers. The video has been viewed 20,203,813 times. (Go ahead, make it 20,203,814!)

The tide has since turned against plastic straws ever since, but is really going next-level in 2018. There are almost daily news items about cities and corporations instituting bans.

Encinitas, California just approved an ordinance in which straws will only be given upon customer request. Fort Myers Beach, Florida banned them in February, and St. Petersburg is mulling a ban of its own.

McDonald's announced on March 28 that it will phase out plastic straws from all locations in the United Kingdom, doling them out only when customers ask. Europe is ahead of the United States on environmental issues, but hopefully we're not too far behind.

Dallas has a few valiant pioneers including the Snappy Salads chain which blazed a trail in 2014 with an embrace of paper straws, and more recently Whiskey Cake, part of the Frontburner restaurant group, which is ditching the plastic. Sibling restaurants Mexican Sugar, Ida Claire, and The Keeper are set to follow suit.

Cain's perception on straws evolved after the 2017 EarthXFilm screened Straws, a documentary profiling activists' anti-straw campaigns.

"I would see people with metal straws and think they were fanatics," Cain says. "But there's that moment where you move from seeing it as a nuisance to understanding what it's about. Now I have my five metal straws and I try to keep one or more with me all the time."

He's developed good strategies at restaurants where servers automatically plunk a straw into every beverage they serve.

"I take a metal straw and set it out on the table," Cain says. "As a consumer, it gives you a way to let them know you don't want a plastic straw. We've also been thinking about using the 'Go naked' slogan, when you order your drink, you say, 'I'd like my drink naked.' It gives people a hook. Everybody's looking for that cute thing to say."

The Strike Out Straws campaign will be a year-round campaign, says Melanie Yonks, who oversees education and outreach for EarthXFilm. That includes bringing Linda Booker, director of Straws, to Dallas to appear at local schools as part of EarthxEdu, the festival's educational division.

Booker will screen Straws at area schools April 2-6. A downloadable version of Straws, along with a detailed lesson plan, will be available to schools for a heavily discounted fee.

"We've added actions we're doing year round," Yonks says. "We decided we wanted to look for ways to be a part of the solution, not just in terms of awareness but action."