Stop Sucking: A grassroots movement to eliminate plastic starts at the bar |

Stop Sucking: A grassroots movement to eliminate plastic starts at the bar

Wendy Mitchell sips a cocktail at Meat and Cheese in Aspen.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |


St. Patrick’s Day “Green” Party

Saturday, March 17

4 to 7 p.m.

Marble Bar

Hyatt Grand Aspen

415 E. Dean St.

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In 2015, Jimmy’s may have been the first bar and restaurant in Aspen to stop sucking. Not figuratively, of course — the hot spot founded in 1997 by Jimmy Yeager has been one of the longest standing, and therefore beloved, establishments in Aspen. In fact, general manager and business partner Jessica Lischka made a bold move to eliminate an all-too-common accouterment from the beverage program: disposable plastic straws. Now paper or compostable straws are available upon request only — and so far, few folks seem to miss them at all.

“We are reducing plastic waste, but more importantly we hope we are getting people to think beyond straws to other single-use plastics and how accustomed we have become to convenience items,” Lischka says. “Would it kill you to put your lips on the glass? Maybe that kind of reduction has never occurred to our guests, and maybe it gets them to rethink their next bottle of water or to-go coffee cup or plastic utensils.”

Other local businesses are joining the national #stopsucking movement in growing numbers. In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day this year, Marble Distilling Co.’s new Marble Bar at the Hyatt Residence Club is going “green” to the extreme, gifting imbibers of $6 specialty cocktails on Saturday with a reusable stainless-steel straw inscribed with the company logo. PR and special events liaison Michelle Marlow hopes that Marble’s effort to push #thelaststraw movement in Aspen during the booze-heavy holiday will inspire fellow watering holes and eateries to follow suit.

“Plastic straws suck!” quips Wendy Mitchell of Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop and Hooch, both of which 86ed the slim sippers about four months ago. “The only problem with paper straws is that they are more expensive and they get a little mushy if you leave them in a drink too long.”

Sabrina Rudin mentions the same issue. “Most paper straws disintegrate while sipping a smoothie, so it’s not very appetizing,” says the Spring Café owner. “But yes, we are trying to cut (plastics) out. All of our to-go material is plant-based PLA and other green ware.”

Hooch general manager Lindze Letherman may offer a paper straw that seems sturdier and more affordable than others on the market, but for now the bar — like Jimmy’s — simply serves cocktails sans straws. Should a customer inquire about the lack of straw, staff will use the opportunity to explain and educate. What’s the big deal? Environmentalists cite eye-boggling figures: Americans discard up to a half-billion disposable straws daily. That’s “enough to wrap around the Earth’s circumference 2.5 times per day,” suggested communication from the city of Aspen’s Environmental Health and Sustainability Department last summer, urging residents to pick up a reusable pint glass and straw from its office in July. (The offer returns in late summer; for now, the city of Aspen is giving away reusable bamboo utensil sets through April.)

Because nonbiodegrable plastic products such as straws clog landfills, litter land and waterways, and endanger wildlife, cities across America are dropping straws like a dumb habit. Following communities from coast to coast — notably Seattle, where 3,100 venues will slash plastics by July; Miami and Fort Myers, Florida; Davis and San Luis Obispo, California — Malibu City Council banned plastic straws, stirrers and utensils from the beach town’s 65 restaurants and food vendors, which must make eco-friendly swaps by a June 1 deadline.

Like Aspen, Malibu was early to enact a ban on plastic shopping bags in 2008; California nixed them statewide last year. Elsewhere companies are turning attention toward the crucial plastic straw issue at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, Smithsonian Institution museums, and parks including Rocky Mountain National Park and the Grand Canyon. The European Union plans to bar many single-use plastic products, including straws, across its 27 member states by 2030. Some countries may succeed faster than that.

Meanwhile, in Aspen: Mayor Steve Skadron is proud of the grassroots community effort thus far, adding that private sector support helps drives policy change.

“Aspen commits itself to being a local, state and national leader in all aspects of environmental stewardship,” he says. “Our electric utility runs on 100 percent renewable sources, our grocery stores ban plastic bags, our stormwater is cleaned to restore landscapes, and our Greenhouse Gas Reduction Toolkit is being scaled and replicated by other communities. Protecting the natural environment is an ethic that defines our character.”

However, Skadron is wary of enacting legislation as the solution.

“I applaud the straw-ban efforts. But before we move toward an outright ban, a viable alternative needs consideration — a lesson learned from banning plastic bags (in 2012).”

His suggestion: Charge customers for the true cost of producing the straw (or other plastics), which would likely reduce or even eliminate demand and therefore crush plastic production.

The city of Aspen’s waste reduction and environmental health specialist Liz O’Connell Chapman concurs.

“I suggest time and money is best spent on mobilizing business and customer awareness to shift to ‘straw upon request’ as a standard and see how that works before trying to mandate anything,” she says. “This could be coupled with more reusable straws being made available as part of the campaign.”

As the city’s composting guru, O’Connell Chapman notes that while only about 16 Aspen restaurants participate in the SCRAPS program currently due to legitimate obstacles (space, training, cost of collection), eliminating plastic straws will be simple.

“It’s a no-brainer,” says Auden Schendler of Aspen Skiing Co., game to introduce the idea across its many properties. “This is the kind of action we can take at a small scale while we work on the bigger things. Even small progress keeps our chins up.”

Skico’s new Limelight Hotel in Snowmass will open without plastic straws (already out of the Limelight in Ketchum, Idaho); The Little Nell and the Limelight Aspen will phase them out beginning June 1.

“This is a large movement in Aspen right now,” says Csaba “Chubby” Oveges of The Little Nell. “While it is a big investment for our hotel (compostable straws cost 28 times more than plastic ones), we feel it is absolutely necessary and in line with our mission statement. Given the cost, this is going to be per request only.”

Lischka of Jimmy’s readily admits that eliminating plastics entirely is a “lofty goal,” yet starting small with straws counts as a step in the right direction.

“The point is that you can still have a great restaurant and bar experience, or any experience in life, really, without all the single-use junk,” says Lischka, who is planning an April luncheon to exchange more ideas among local business leaders.

Despite myriad challenges to running a truly sustainable operation in a Aspen — geography and isolation, low population, climate, tourist industry, high quality of goods and services — O’Connell Chapman is optimistic that locals will continue to choose to reduce footprints without sacrificing what makes Aspen great.

“It becomes part of our local culture — ‘it’s just how things are done’ — and requires less taxpayer money to support than when these actions are forced through legislation,” O’Connell Chapman says. “Sometimes laws are needed to create what the community wants and needs in the long term, but legislation breeds resistance in a way that voluntary changes do not.”

So stop sucking, and #drinksustainably, Aspen!; @amandaraewashere

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