The final straw: Brunswick restaurant cuts back on plastic

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BRUNSWICK — April 5 was the last straw for TJ and Cheri Siatras.

That morning, the husband-and-wife owners of Joshua’s Restaurant & Tavern declared that starting April 6 drinks would be served without straws, and only compostable straws would be available on request.

The inspiration came from a school report the Siatras’ 12-year-old daughter, Danika, did on ocean pollution, which they said was “depressing as hell.”

“It seems like the problem is so far gone that it’s insurmountable,” the the couple said on Facebook. “But damn it, we gotta start somewhere.”

A fact Cheri said she found particularly disturbing was learning about a large mass of trash floating in the Pacific Ocean. Scientists refer to it as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” and it’s twice the size of Texas.

Ocean pollution was also highlighted in reports published last week about a sperm whale that washed up dead on a beach in southern Spain; it had ingested 64 pounds of waste before its death. Most of the trash was plastic.

At Joshua’s, going straw-free is the first of several eco-friendly changes the restaurant owners hope to make. Cheri said sometimes making small changes, however, can lead to discouraging remarks from those who believe it’s not enough.

“The thing is, is usually when we start doing stuff like this, people get all, ‘oh if you were really serious about saving the environment you’d do this and this and this,'” she said. “It gets overwhelming. … (But) you’ve got to start somewhere.”

Cards that are now on every table also warn against “eco preachy” people, and caution customers not to judge those who elect to use straws, because some medical conditions necessitate them. 

Cheri said although Joshua’s has received a lot of love on Facebook for going straw-free, her restaurant is far from the only one in Brunswick doing its part to help the environment.

“We’re not the first people to do it; The Great Impasta has a whole bunch of stuff that they do, (and) Frontier has had compostable straws forever. We didn’t invent the wheel,” she said.

But Joshua’s has inspired at least one other local business to follow suit: Henry & Marty Restaurant & Catering.

Last week, the restaurant, which is just a short walk from Joshua’s on Maine Street, posted a sign in its front window reading: “We are plastic straw free! Thanks to Danica!”

Cheri said she got a call from her husband after he spotted the sign, which she said their daughter was “totally stoked” about.

A waitress and bartender at Joshua’s said customers have taken well to the change. A woman even came in to congratulate the restaurant on making the switch April 16.

“There’s hardly anybody that’s balking at it,” she said.

Another environmentally friendly step Joshua’s is hoping to implement is composting, which restaurants such as Henry & Marty and The Great Impasta already practice.

Cheri said Joshua’s and nearby establishments Richard’s Restaurant and Pedro O’Hara’s are discussing composting together, since they already share a dumpster.

In the past, she added, Joshua’s had a local pig farmer come by the restaurant regularly and pick up food scraps, but the partnership ended.

A big part of formally introducing a major sustainable practice like composting, Cheri said, is ensuring all staff are properly trained. 

“The compost people that Henry and Marty’s use, they come in and they train your staff, because that’s part of it is getting your staff to do it,” she said. “If nobody’s doing it, it’s not worth anything.”

In addition to going straw-free, another more immediate measure Joshua’s has taken recently is ordering melamine souffle cups to replace plastic dressing cups.

Even a change as seemingly small as the new souffle cups, Cheri said, requires the entire restaurant staff to be on board.

Cost is also a consideration.

“It’s more expensive, you’ve got worry about whether they’re going to get thrown in the trash when people are scraping plates and things like that,” Cheri said. “It’s one more step for the dishwasher to wash, they get caught in the dishwasher and that can be expensive, but overall it offsets (the alternative).”

Ultimately, she said, she believes legislation requiring more eco-friendly practices for local businesses isn’t too far away. In the meantime though, the Brunswick restaurant community collectively making more sustainable strides will help.

“It’s not like any one place is trying to do it better than anyone else,” Cheri said. “If we all do it, it’s easier.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Cheri Siatras, who co-owns Joshua’s Restaurant & Tavern in Brunswick with her husband T.J. Siatras, with a sign announcing their decision to go plastic straw-free. The Siatrases were inspired after their 12-year-old daughter, Danika, wrote a school report on ocean pollution. 

Cards explaining the owners’ decision to go strawless are now on every table at Joshua’s in Brunswick.

Jeffrey Thayer, a customer at Joshua’s Restaurant & Tavern, enjoys a drink sans straw on April 17. The restaurant stopped serving drinks with straws April 6 in an effort to be more environmentally friendly. 

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