Le Rendez-Vous Café in Panama, Nikao, Trader Jacks and Bamboo Jacks in downtown Avarua have taken the lead in the fight against reducing the use of non-biodegradable straws in the country.
According to reports, each year 128 billion straws are thrown out and many end up in the ocean.
French café Le Rendez-Vous, which promotes the use of biodegradable goods, started an initiative six months ago to replace plastic straws with reusable bamboo ones.
Café owner Guillaume Kapfer said the business had so far saved about 10,000 plastic straws in the past six months.
“We have realised there is a lot of wastage in plastic straws that in turn harm our environment so we decided to use bamboo straws for those dining in,” Kapfer said.
“For takeaways, we still give out plastic straws because we can’t afford to give out bamboo straws.
“Most of our customers are happy with this change. We have even sold some bamboo straws to customers who were keen to take them home.”
Kapfer said they bought about 200 bamboo straws, together with special brushes and a machine to clean them after use.
He said the initiative was not cost effective as the maintenance cost was quite substantial, but added he was happy to cover the extra cost to ensure Le Rendez-Vous was an environmentally friendly café.
“With bamboo straws, you need to spend time on cleaning it. We have special brushes that go inside the straw to ensure they are cleaned properly.
“We have also brought a special sterilising equipment to ensure the bamboo straws are safe for reuse,” Kapfer said.
“We have to be very careful while handling and cleaning the bamboo straws, if it’s not nicely washed, it gets mold and we have to throw it away. We also had cases where some of the bamboo straws were damaged because people either hit them against the table or chewed parts of them.”
Renowned restaurants and bar Trader Jacks and Bamboo Jacks have also joined the fight against plastic straws by launching the “No Sucking” campaign.
They have completely phased out the use of straws in their restaurants.
Trader Jacks manager Jason Cleverley said the number of plastic straws disposed around the globe each day was enough to wrap around the world three times.
He said it was time to “stop sucking”.
“Trader Jacks and Bamboo Jacks have joined the ‘strawless ocean’ movement,” Cleverley said.
“Here in the Cook Islands, the ocean is our life. It provides us with much of our diet and is the most significant drawcard for our growing tourist market.
“We know that plastic bags are bad for the environment and end up in the ocean.
Few people realise that straws are among the top 10 items found during beach clean ups and can do so much harm to seabirds, turtles and other marine creatures.”
Cleverley said their campaign on social network had attracted an “amazing” response, with over 10,000 views, many shares and great comments.
He said they have not received any complaints, however staff had been approached by a number of people supporting the idea.
“We did contemplate reusable bamboo straws but these did not hold up to our health and safety policies. Instead, we can offer our guest biodegradable wooden stirrers,” he said.
“As a group, we were serving over 5000 straws every week. Because we've received such a great reaction from our patrons, we're taking another step and removing disposable plastic completely. We are sourcing high quality biodegradable bags, containers, cutlery and cups.”
Cleverley said the Trader Jacks family want to put the challenge out to all Cook Islanders to stop the use of straws.
“Straws are an unnecessary luxury.
We want you to pass our challenge to your local restaurants and bars. It's time to protect our greatest natural resource. It's time to stop sucking!”
Local environmental group Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) applauded the two restaurant owners for taking the bold step in keeping the environment safe from the harmful non-biodegradable straws.
TIS project officer Alanna Smith said they were also trying to encourage food vendors and other restaurant owners from refraining to serve their customers non-biodegradable straws.
She said they were also promoting the use of biodegradable straws and working with the café and accommodations to trial out this environmentally friendly substitute.
“We have received a great response from our community and noticing a shift from using plastic straws. The aim is to phase out the use of plastic straws in the Cook Islands.”