The importance of going green is nothing new for the meeting and event industry, and in 2018 the emphasis has been put on plastic straws. It seems like every day another company, hotel or restaurant chain has announced plans to switch to paper straws or remove straws altogether. So why exactly have plastic straws taken center stage in sustainability and how will this movement affect meetings and events? Let's dive in.
According to For A Strawless Ocean, more than 500 million plastic straws are used in America each day alone! Because they cannot be recycled or biodegrade, they end up in the oceans, affecting animals and wildlife. Seabirds and marine animals, in particular, can be especially harmed or die from ingesting straws. The momentum to ban straws is often credited to a viral video of scientists painfully removing a plastic straw from a sea turtle's nose (the video, by the way, though available on YouTube is not for the faint of heart!).
To reduce the number of straws found in our oceans, alternatives have included offering paper straws (which are compostable), reusable straws often made of stainless steel or glass; or merely removing a straw option altogether by drinking straight from the cup.
Who is leading the charge?
Along with For a Strawless Ocean, there are countless organizations with information and tools available for planners to check out, including Lonely Whale and The Last Plastic Straw. Many of these organizations support the viral #StopSucking campaign which encourages people to say no to straws consciously. In the United States, there's also National Skip the Straw day every fourth Friday in February that also draws attention to the cause.
And the public and private sectors have taken notice. Starbucks, McDonald's, Disney, Hyatt, Marriott, and American Airlines are just some of the major companies that have announced plans to phase out straws. Seattle and Vancouver have also announced city-wide bans, and many other major cities, including New York, have proposals in the works. Scotland has a plan to eliminate straws country-wide by 2019! Even major event venues are banning straws, including New York's Nassau Coliseum and the Barclays Center.
How can planners help?
As you can see, the pressure to stop using plastic straws has already crept into the planning industry. If you want to do your part and help reduce the use of plastic straws at your next event, here are some tips and ideas to keep in mind.
- Talk to your venue/food service vendor: This is your first step! The straw ban is still not yet universal and old habits, like automatically including a straw with a beverage, die hard. Make it clear to your vendors or venue that your event is meant to be straw free. Work with them to provide signage to explain to your attendees about this change, as well as how it benefits the environment.
- Don't forget those with disabilities: While many will applaud your efforts to cut back on plastic straws, it's important to note that people with disabilities often rely on them. Paper straws sometimes fall apart, and reusable ones need to be washed, and, thus, aren't always the best alternatives at an event. Make sure you or your vendors have a handful of plastic straws available upon request and do let attendees with disabilities know, especially if you're advertising a ban.
- Promote it as your event's current green initiative: Removing straws from your event is a great thing to advertise in this day in age, so celebrate it! Include straw-free messaging in your marketing campaigns, in social media posts, signage and more! It also helps spread awareness among your attendees about the harm straws cause and may help them remember not to use them in the future.
- Make it into a game or challenge: Have fun with it! Especially if your event is food and beverage orientated, encouraging attendees to post pictures of their straw-free drinks with the hashtag #StopSucking is a great way to spread the word. If your event is multi-day or widespread in a city, encourage attendees to say no to straws while picking up their morning ice coffee pre-event or ordering their drinks at cocktail hour post-event. Have them share online to win a free reusable straw or other prizes.
- Don't forget to do your part: Removing straws from future events is a significant step, but don't forget about your personal and work lives. Consider removing straws from your office or buying reusable ones for your team. Remember to tell waitstaff upfront that you'd like your drinks sans straw when you go out. Every little bit helps!
Overall, there are many ways to go green at events, and this is just one of the newest ways to do it. Removing straws can make a significant impact, but don't forget to continue with and consider other ways to make your event more environmentally friendly and sustainable.