It's Easier Than Ever to Refuse Single-Use Plastics

CC BY 2.0. Horia Varlan

Finally, I no longer feel like I'm nagging.

I'm writing this post in the delightful Beyu Caffe in downtown Durham. When I asked my server to not bring a straw with my water, he responded with a smile: "I wasn't going to give you one anyway."

The same thing actually happened to me yesterday—this time at a place called Page Road Grill. Upon requesting a glass of water without a straw, my waiter proudly told me that they are actively trying to eliminate the straw, and have switched to compostable plastics in the meantime.

It's actually quite disorientating. Like many environmentalists, I ebb and flow in the amount of energy or brain space I devote to making "special requests" at the businesses I support. Sometimes, I'd refuse a bag or a straw. Sometimes, I'd forget. And often—when I did make the effort—I'd be greeted with confusion, or eye rolls, by staff who weren't used to folks causing a fuss.

Recently, I've noticed that changing. As major chains like Starbucks commit to going straw-free, the conversation about unnecessary plastics has rapidly become commonplace enough that I no longer feel like a weirdo for bothering my server or requesting something different. In fact, I'm increasingly finding that the businesses themselves are ahead of the game.

Even when businesses aren't yet ready to fully make a change, it's clear that the path has been set by other 'nags' before me. Take the response I received to a recent email I sent to a beachside taco joint which, for now, shall remain anonymous:

"The straws have been more difficult, but we are working towards a better project. Honestly, if more people had feelings like you, eliminating straws all together would be easy - it's the other customers who are more passionately quick to pass an opinion. Regardless, we're with you and we're trying our best, and will continue to find alternatives to materials and hopefully get on board with the pass the straw program."

Much like picking up trash at the beach, speaking up about consumer preferences can feel awkward—perhaps even intimidating. But the more of us weirdos there are who are willing to ask for something different, the easier it becomes to make those requests. Increasingly, I'm finding weirdos on the other side of the transaction who are just waiting for us to push them for more. And as businesses step up and do more, it becomes easier for cities or entire countries to implement legislative change.

Now back to my delicious espresso. Thanks, Beyu.

I will be back.