It’s a project that’s starting to catch on, one sip at a time.

Clean Water Action is inviting Montclair-area restaurants to sign up with Straws by Request, a project aimed at cutting down on the use of disposable plastics in eateries.

With the project, restaurants will give straws out with drinks only if patrons specifically ask for them.

At least five restaurants had signed on as of mid-December: Local, Pig and Prince, Plum on Park, Toast and Vital.

Israel Cronk, the chair of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District, said he liked the idea of the straws-free initiative. “Our mission is to take small steps toward more mindful and sustainable business practices,” Cronk said.

Maura Toomey and her team at Clean Water Action “have tried-and-true methods that really make an impact on waste,” he said. “I am proud to be part of such a wonderful and necessary initiative.”

Clean Water Action cited the increase in the amount of plastics appearing in the world’s oceans and waterways as the impetus for starting Straws by Request.

Amy Russo, owner of Toast, said that she had heard about Straws by Request through conversations with Cronk and Toomey.

She had been looking for ways to make Toast a more sustainable business after visiting her son, who attends the University of Vermont, and seeing some of the university’s green projects.

Toast has also converted to recyclable plastic cups and reusable to-go containers. She also said that the staff asks customers if they need plastic to-go utensils, rather than automatically packing the utensils in with each order. “That step by itself has shown a significant reduction in our plastic consumption,” she said.

Toast’s other locations in Monmouth County have taken such steps as replacing paper towel dispensers in restrooms with electric hand dryers, she said, and the Montclair location will be making the same move.

“This is really pretty simple and if explained the right way I am sure our community of customers will be thrilled with the program, and the other changes we are making to better our communities,” Russo said.

Bluestone Coffee Company on Watchung Plaza recently started using paper straws and wooden coffee stirrers. Harvey Shilling, the cafe’s owner, said the cafe had already received a shipment of straws and stirrers from the company Aardvark. “But we’ve been a Montclair green business for quite a while,” he said. Bluestone composts all its organic waste in the spring and summer months, uses high-efficiency lighting and uses compostable takeout containers.

“I started reading about how there’s been quite a bit in the news, about straws getting into the ocean and harming wildlife,” Shilling said.

Some of Bluestone’s customers bring their own metal straws with them, Shilling said.

It was too early to tell what customers think of the new paper straws, Shilling said. “But knowing my customers, they’ll be pretty happy.”
Montclair’s Green Business program encourages businesses to take steps to make themselves more sustainable, including using recyclable packaging, cutting down on the use of disposable plastic, and at coffee shops, encouraging customers to bring their own to-go mugs.