With businesses becoming more environmentally friendly, it’s no surprise that some restaurants in Owensboro are switching from plastic to paper straws.
The concern over plastic straws has increased recently due to the amount of pollution in waterways. Some local restaurants in the area have made the switch to paper straws, including Mellow Mushroom and Burger Theory.
Other eateries soon making the switch that have locations in Owensboro include Starbucks and McDonald’s.
Owensboro’s location on the Ohio River is part of the reason some local businesses are becoming more aware of their environmental impact. According to the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), the Ohio River is “one of the most polluted rivers in the United States.”
Because the Ohio River’s banks are highly populated and industrialized, they have served as a dumping ground for local cities and industries for years, the ELPC said. However, ORSANCO (Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission) formed in 1948 with the goal to clean up the banks of the Ohio River with an annual River Sweep.
This year, officials with Daviess County’s local ORSANCO branch reported seeing less trash on the banks of the Ohio River than ever before.
Plastic straws are not biodegradable — they slowly fragment into smaller pieces of plastics, microplastics. According to 4Ocean, a company founded in 2017 with the intent to clean the ocean and waterways, plastic straws can take up to 200 years to decompose.
Mellow Mushroom switched to paper straws in a decision made by corporate leadership, but the company still uses plastic straws for bar drinks. Plastic straws are difficult to recycle because of the type of plastic they are commonly made of, and most curbside recycling programs do not accept this type of plastic, so they end up in landfills or polluting oceans and water.
Paper straws are biodegradable and break down within three days. The paper will decompose back into the earth within 2-6 weeks, according to ELPC.
“We definitely support paper straws or no straws at all,” said Debra Branch, director of the Joe Ford Nature Center.
Branch said she doesn’t use a straw herself, but that the biggest issue comes from those who use plastic straws and don’t dispose of them. During every Friday After 5, an event that takes place along the Ohio River, Branch said she watches in shock as people continue to throw their trash on the ground, even when a trash can is visible.
“That trash will blow into the waterway as soon as the wind picks up,” she said. “Switching to paper straws could have an impact. It’s not a short-term thing. It’s going to be a long-term thing. [The littering] is not just happening on our riverfront–it’s happening on every riverfront.”