Who can forget the image of the sea turtle with a drinking straw stuck in its nose? Whether that is your motivation, or the images of plastic in the ocean or trash on our beaches, you can do your small part by not using plastic straws – and two area women helped convince many beach restaurants to support a “Straw on Request” program.
“The point is not to take away people’s straws,” said Sharon Gincauskas, founder of Ocean Hour Florida. “We just wanted restaurants to offer them on request.”
Gincauskas, along with volunteers such as Cheryl Kelsch, began visiting Pensacola Beach restaurants to convince them to stop automatically handing out plastic straws. The response was mostly positive, and many restaurants have tabletop signs letting customers know to request a straw if desired.
Skip The Plastic campaign. (Photo: Phillip Makselan/Bella/pnj.com)
“Straws are often given even when they are not needed,” Kelsch said. “If you want a straw, definitely ask for a straw. But if not, then it is saving a little bit of waste that is not put back into the world.”
The duo explained that while straws are not the biggest item polluting our beaches and waterways, it was a good place to start. The little plastic convenience items are typically used once and thrown away – sometimes straws are left on the table and not even used before being thrown away – and they do not recycle well, they drop through trash sifters and do not break down.
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Gincauskas formed Ocean Hour after being inspired by Justin Riney, who paddleboarded around Florida raising environmental awareness, to spend time on the beach picking up trash. The amount of trash, and especially plastic, on the beach was eye opening to the Gulf Breeze resident. Last year, the group picked up 18,000 pounds of trash, and Gincauskas said at least 75 percent of it was plastic.
“The initial goal was picking up trash on the beach. It has evolved, and we are now trying to become more educational and spread awareness of what we find on the beach and educating about plastic. That is how we became focused on straws. We can go out there and pick up and pick up, but until there is less plastic going into the environment, our job will never be done,” she said.
Peg Leg Pete’s is one restaurant that jumped on board pretty quickly after realizing the impact.
“We love our beaches and we understand the importance of this,” said Chip Eisenhart, a manager at Peg Leg Pete’s. “We want to do everything we can to protect the beach. Locals here love our beaches and we do too.”
Sharon Gincauskas and Cheryl Kelsch. at Peg Leg Pete's, which participates in the Skip The Plastic campaign. (Photo: Phillip Makselan/Bella/pnj.com)
Eisenhart said they really haven’t experienced much pushback from customers. If someone wants a straw, they can have it. But, many people are learning from the signs and realizing they don’t really need the straw.
The Island Culture Tiki Bar team started looking at alternatives to plastic straws late last fall. After trying many different alternatives, the team found wheat straws, which customers seem to like.
“Straw awareness was increasing, so collectively as a team we decided to do our part,” said Jennifer Jackson-Keating, co-owner and general manager. “Last year we tried the paper straws, but people didn’t like them. So, we tried straws from all over the place – we were on a straw mission!”
To learn more about Ocean Hour and its upcoming cleanup events, visit oceanhourfl.com.
Pensacola Beach restaurants offering straws only by request
Peg Leg Pete’s
Sidelines Sports Bar and Restaurant
Restaurants offering straw alternatives
The Grand Marlin (working to eliminate plastic cups and straws)
Paradise Bar & Grill
Flounder’s Chowder House (also does straws on request)
Fish Heads (also does straws on request)
Red Fish Blue Fish
Island Culture Tiki Bar