Food & Drink

Why over 200 Grand Strand restaurants have stopped giving straws

File photo -  (Cary Wagner/Sun Sentinel/MCT)
File photo - (Cary Wagner/Sun Sentinel/MCT)

More than 200 restaurants along the Grand Strand no longer hand out straws with drinks in an effort to reduce plastic pollution in the area.

Meet Cathy Tourloukis, a Carolina Forest resident who started up the organization called Plastic Free Myrtle Beach after she became frustrated with the litter she was encountering in the community.

Cathy Tourloukis, a Carolina Forest resident, has managed to get over 200 Grand Strand restaurants to participate in Strand Strawless Summer, a campaign to help reduce the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean and beaches.

"I just got so tired of seeing all of the plastic by the road and on the beach, it just got to be too much for me and I said I have to do something," Tourloukis said.

With the help of two others, Tourloukis brings flyers to restaurants everywhere between Little River and Georgetown to try and get them to participate in her campaign, Strand Strawless Summer. Employees only give straws if someone asks for one.

"You don't need a straw, most people use it because it's automatically given to them, and that's what we're trying to stop," she said. "If you need it for medical reasons, for dental reasons, that's fine, use a straw, but maybe you can switch to paper, maybe you can start bringing your own reusable straw."

The flyers restaurants hang up to show they are participating in Strand Strawless Summer. June 29, 2018 - Michaela Broyles

She said she explains to managers and owners her mission of trying to decrease the amount of plastic on our beaches and in the ocean.

"A lot of the restaurants I've gone into, they weren't aware that there is a problem, and once I've told them, they've said, "Yes, definitely, I want to do this,'" she added. "I ask if they would mind hanging the flyers up and wear the buttons and most of them are in total agreement and very supportive. It's very encouraging."

Every day, people use 500 million single-use plastic straws that end up in the ocean, polluting it and threatening marine life in the process, according to The Last Plastic Straw, an organization whose movement is to eliminate single-use plastic.

Trash is a major problem in our oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Here's how long it takes for some of the most common types of trash to decompose — including straws, plastic bags and balloons.

Tourloukis said overall, it hasn't been much of an issue to get restaurants to participate. Only a handful have "flat out said no."

"A few of them just think every single customer they have wants a straw," she said. "I try to explain that we have over 200 restaurants on the list and that they're doing great, and they're just like, 'No, we can't do it.'"

As of June 30, 238 restaurants in the area are participating in Strand Strawless Summer.

Darlene Chagnon, part-owner of Early Riser Diner in the Carolina Forest area, said it feels "great" to have her restaurant be one of the many to help reduce plastic pollution.

"Once you see what plastic does and what it can do, it absolutely does feel good to help," Chagnon said. "I hope more people get on board and participate. Hopefully we can bring more awareness to more items we can probably get rid of and not use."

She said that although people do still ask for straws, her restaurant has significantly cut back on the amount of straws it goes through on a weekly basis.

"I still have a lot of people asking, but it definitely has reduced," Chagnon said. "Once they look at the badges, they're like, 'Oh, nevermind.'"

Strand Strawless Summer officially ends in August, but that's not stopping Tourloukis from continuing her mission.

"At the beginning of August, I'm going back to all of the restaurants and I have a new slogan, it'll be 'Sensational Strawless Strand,' and I'll make flyers saying that, and hopefully all of the restaurants would've had a good experience and they'll switch out the Strand Strawless Summer signs with the new ones," she said.

Anyone wishing to have their restaurant participate in Strand Strawless Summer may do so by messaging Plastic Free Myrtle Beach on Facebook.

Michaela Broyles: 843-626-0281, @MichaelaBroyles