Drinking straws are standard fare at most restaurants. Whenever we order a cold beverage, it usually comes with a straw, and we use it to slurp our water, teas or sodas in a matter of minutes. Afterwards, the straws end up littering our beaches and landfills.
“We see those [straws] out on the beach everywhere, those and cracker wrappers,” says Ed Chiles, owner of Chiles Restaurant Group.
So Chiles decided to do something about it. He has quit serving “old-style,” non-biodegradable plastic beverage straws.
“If they want a straw they’re going to get a straw. We’ve got a good [biodegradable] backup,” says Chiles, who owns Ana Maria’s Sandbar, Bradenton Beach’s Beach House and Longboat Key’s Mar Vista Dockside restaurants.
Chiles is partnering with the Washington, D.C.-based Ocean Conservancy to educate the public about the single-use plastic straws and protect our oceans. According to the Conservancy, straws are one of the top 10 items collected during cleanups.
Chiles’ campaign includes green messages encouraging customers to “Skip the Straw.” So far, it has been working.
“I think it has gone very well overall. I think people understand. At first, there’s that little pause. They think about it and they get it,” Chiles says.
His servers are on board. “Our people have embraced it. If your servers aren’t behind it, you’ve got a problem,” he explains.
Chiles calls removing the plastic beverage straw “one small step.” He’s already ditched plastic cups and individually wrapped crackers, opting for glasses and sleeves of crackers. Plans include a complete line of eco-friendly “to go” containers and reusable packing crates.
He has gardens to grow their own herbs and spices. “The kitchen guys go out and work it,” says Chiles, an honorary faculty member of the University of South Florida’s Patel College of Global Sustainability. “We are all about local sustainable.”
Although his menus feature seafood, you also may find wild boar, considered an invasive species. “We take lemons and make limoncello,” he quips. “People think they [wild boars] are not any good, but they’re wrong. It’s fabulous. It’s one of my favorite meats.”
Even his parking lots are environmentally friendly. For the last decade, he has been a leader in pervious or porous parking lots, setting an example about how to deal with stormwater on commercial properties.
Chiles isn’t stopping with the beverage straw. Now he’s looking for a bio-degradable cocktail straw.