Paper straw? Movement says skip it altogether

There’s a subtle but potentially significant change taking place in some restaurants along the North Fork. “Skip the Stuff” — meaning forgoing the single-use plastic utensils and straws included in most takeout orders — could reduce litter and waste if customers say no when picking up their food.

The movement is championed by The Surfrider Foundation, an environmental nonprofit focused on keeping waterways clean and currently lobbying the Suffolk County Legislature to adopt Introductory Resolution 1373, aka “Skip the Stuff.” They hope the bill will be taken up by the health committee soon, the first step to adopting it countywide. In the meantime, participation in the movement is only voluntary.

Andrea Tese, owner of Minnow at the Galley Ho and Legends in New Suffolk, which front Peconic Bay, said her restaurants already go beyond “Skip the Stuff.” 

Deborah Wetzel photo; Angela Colangelo video

“My goal when I bought Minnow and Legends was zero waste, but we have to work up to that,” she said. Straws and cutlery aren’t mentioned when packing up a customer’s leftovers or takeout; they’re included only at a customer’s request it, which Ms. Tese also said is rare. When that does occur, she provides biodegradable bamboo forks and knives, paper cartons and mason jars for liquids. 

“Our focus in the front of the house ­— restaurant and bar — is glass and metal,” Ms. Tese said. “Instead of buying Heinz ketchup in a massive plastic vat, I get it in a can that can be recycled.” 

Deborah Wetzel photo; Angela Colangelo video

North Sea resident Audyn Curless, awaiting his takeout dinner after an eight-minute boat ride across the bay, said the experience of eating at Minnow is positive for him because of the decisions Ms. Tese makes to be a sustainable establishment. 

“The quantity of plastic and Styrofoam that some restaurants give out leaves a bad taste in my mouth,” he said.

A few tables away, Ann and Fino Celano of Cutchogue weren’t aware of its intentional avoidance of takeout utensils and straws. “I always thought they just forgot to put that stuff in,” said Ms. Celano. But the couple agreed that if restaurants do this on a bigger scale, it will cut back on and prevent litter. “Awareness and education make a big difference, and people will get on board,” she added.

Deborah Wetzel photo; Angela Colangelo video

Another local restaurant owner, George Giannaris of the Hellenic in East Marion, said the environment has been a concern of his and his customers for years. 

“I’m so biodegradable at my place. We’ve been withholding single-use plastic long before it was popular. And now we’re using mineral-based takeout containers that biodegrade.” 

Mr. Giannaris added that most of his customers are concerned about the environment, so they don’t ask for disposable utensils. He also said going green can be expensive for restaurant owners, noting that a case of regular straws costs $30, while compostable ones cost the same amount for one small box.

Kassata Bollman, owner of Bruce + Son in Greenport weighed the business costs as well.

“I certainly don’t think this would burden any restaurant. In fact, they might save money,” she said. “The amount reduced would be subject to the type and location of the restaurant. In our case, not all our items need utensils and, oftentimes, customers choose items that don’t require utensils for consumption.”

Jenna Schwerzmann, Eastern Long Island Chapter Manager for Surfrider, said she believes eateries will be motivated by the potential savings of not handing out these accessories automatically.

“This is a logical and easy way for the North Fork to prevent waste and raise awareness about reducing our plastic footprint. It’s all about changing habits, from the restaurant staff to the customer.

“We really want all restaurants to be ocean-friendly,” Ms. Schwerzmann continued. “The idea was born in California in 2013. If Suffolk County adopts it, it won’t be a part of the health department inspections. They will only issue warnings and fines if someone reports a restaurant.” 

She pointed out that people originally thought banning plastic bags would be a hassle, but that “once it happened people adjusted, and this is a similar switch. Let’s prevent it instead of providing it.”

Other North Fork restaurants already participating in “Skip the Stuff” are Noah’s in Greenport and The Halyard at Soundview.