Photo by Laura Hayes
Photo by Laura Hayes

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Bad news for brides-to-be trying to preserve their teeth whitening treatments by drinking exclusively through straws. D.C. restaurants and bars are doing away with them altogether or switching to more eco-friendly, biodegradable options to cut down on plastic waste, much of which makes its way into the ocean.

“There’s these things called cups and you can put your mouth on them and you can use that as a vehicle to get drunk,” chides District Fishwife co-owner Fiona Lewis

The comedic Aussie runs a fish market and food stall specializing in fried shrimp rolls, poke, and more inside Union Market. She points out that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, and she’s seen the plastic problem first hand while scuba diving. “The photos of the turtles with straws up their noses are heartbreaking,” she says. 

While you won’t find straws at her stand, Lewis doesn’t pretend to have cut plastic out entirely. “It’s essential for our business model in what we do unfortunately,” she says, adding that she tries to use biodegradable materials when possible and is committed to reusing as much as possible. “But straws are one of those things that aren’t essential.”

Lewis is a big fan of the #stopsucking hashtag created by The Lonely Whale foundation. She uses it to encourage her District Fishwife patrons and others to stop using plastic straws. For a cheap thrill, visit the foundation’s website to see well-to-do people get slapped in the face by octopus tentacles while drinking out of straws.

Another Union Market vendor has adopted its own straw-free slogan. “Go naked,” urges Buffalo & Bergen owner Gina Chersevani. The seasoned D.C. bartender quit using plastic straws about two and a half years ago. Most of her cocktails now come without straws, hence the slogan, but they’re available by request. She uses Eco brand straws made from corn, even though they’re more expensive.

“Business owners have to make sure their bottom line is always met,” she says. “But chince on something else, not the environment.” Buffalo & Bergen serves its fair share of bagels and lox. “Do I depend on the ocean for all of my salmon? Am I going to feed them straws? No. A lot of restaurant owners forget that they get all of their fish from the ocean.” 

Juan Coronado, another renowned bar man, also ditched plastic straws. He recently drew up the cocktail menu at Bresca on 14th Street NW. He serves most of the drinks there naked, but some necessitate a straw, such as the one that comes in a glass shaped like a honey bee. “Every beverage program I touch, I put my foot down to get rid of the plastic,” he says.

Instead of plastic, Coronado buys straws made out of corn, bamboo, wax paper, and even the refuse from pressing sugarcane. “The corn ones are already competitive in price,” he says. “We’re doing something positive here. I hope people jump on the idea right now.” 

Other restaurants or restaurant groups are part of a more formalized movement to eradicate straws, including the group that operates Penn Quarter newcomer Succotash

“As a high-volume restaurant company we have the ability to touch thousands of guests weekly and make a significant difference,” says KNEAD Hospitality + Design partner Michael Reginbogin. “We recently joined the Plastic Pollution Coalition to raise further awareness among our employees and guests. The removal of automatic plastic straws in our drinks aids in minimizing the 500 million straws that are discarded daily and pollute our oceans and landfills.”

Look to the bottom of Succotash’s Kentucky-meets-Korea comfort food menu and you’ll spot a “Last Straw Sea Turtle” logo. “We offer green biodegradable straws on request only and have had much success with this initiative.”