In Focus
COMMUNITY | Staff Reporter, Australia

How Grill'd, Coffee Club NZ are getting ahead of the plastic straw phase-out movement

As the world at large moves towards sustainable practices, the quick service industry is finding ways to do its part.

With an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the ocean every year posing a threat to both marine life and the human food chain, there is a present need for businesses to consider reducing plastic waste, if not eliminate it altogether.

Global fast food giants McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks are taking up the challenge, with pledges to eliminate plastic straws from its stores in the coming years as they explore alternatives.

Smaller players, however, are beating them to the punch.

Healthy burger chain Grill’d, for instance, have ditched plastic straws altogether with the aim of preventing 1.6 million black plastic straws from going to landfill annually.

“We have been planning our ‘Straws Suck’ campaign since the beginning of the year when we became aware of The Last Straw,” Grill’d founder and managing director Simon Crowe told QSR Media. “It was a part of our Local Matters Program (our community donation program) and their campaign to reduce the use of the plastic straws in venues around Australia really appealed to us.”

The Last Straw movement is a global initiative to ditch plastic straws in favor of more eco-friendly alternatives, such as as paper or bamboo straws.

“We looked further into the real impact of straws, and how they’re clogging our waterways and ending up in landfill, and knew straight away that we had to get on board,” Crowe said.

Grill’d is among the first in the country’s industry to pull the trigger on banning plastic straws, with the move even catching the attention of ABC’s War on Waste program last March.

The Coffee Club NZ paper straws used for some of their drink items. Photo: Supplied

Other brands are following suit. The Coffee Club New Zealand recently announced its 63 stores are no longer using plastic straws since 10 September and will be using Eco Straws instead, a paper straw that is 100% recyclable and compostable.

The move, they estimate, will eliminate almost 900,000 straws annually.

“Like many of our customers, we are concerned about the negative environmental impact of plastic straws being disposed of irresponsibly,” The Coffee Club NZ co-director Andy Lucas explained. “Earlier this year, we stopped using straws for many drinks
that simply didn’t need one, which reduced our straw usage dramatically.”

In a study of trash collected in clean-ups of the U.S. coastlines, Australian scientists Denise Hardesty and Chris Wilcox deduced that there is an estimated 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on the entire world's coastlines, with more being added every year.

‘Straws are just the tip of the iceberg’
Crowe lauds how many restaurants are jumping on board with the abandonment of plastic straws but says other aspects of the industry also need attention.

“When it comes to the environment, straws are just the tip of the iceberg. There are bricks and mortar buildings (and making them more efficient), food waste, energy, packaging, recycling and sustainable farming and produce that all need urgent consideration. As an industry, we need to share more ideas and initiatives, and work together to adopt better practices across the board.”

Many experts on the topic believe plastic straws to be the low-hanging fruit in the industry’s fight against plastic waste, accounting for only a tiny percentage of the world’s plastic. At the same time, however, some surmise such ban will give disabled people, for whom alternative options are often not durable, nor flexible enough for their needs.

Grill’d recognizes the challenges posed by adopting such environmentally-friendly initiatives, but Crowe only reaffirmed their commitment.

“When you have over 130 restaurants, it can take a little time to fully implement all the necessary changes. While we’re trying to change the world one burger at a time, it’s a gradual evolution and we are still working out better ways of doing things to ensure a more sustainable future,” he said.

“Staff and customers’ perceptions can be difficult to sway. Fortunately for us at Grill’d, climate change/the environment is the number one priority of our staff. Similarly, our customer base is really connected to the environment and sustainability and they’re completely supportive of the work we’re doing.”

Other eco-friendly initiatives the brand has implemented across its stores include reducing its food distribution footprint by sourcing its food from local farmers, minimizing food wastage by up to 97%, lowering its energy consumption through a light-dimming system, recycling cooking oil into biodiesel, and using sustainably-sourced packaging.

Grill’d, through its Local Matters program, has also raised over $4,000,000 over the years to help more than 20,000 local community groups, many of which are focused on improving the local environment.

Moving forward, Crowe said that they are looking to continue research and investment into environmentally-friendly packaging and processes, working closely with their supply chain partners to adhere to the brand’s principles.

“One of our core values is ‘Healthy Burgers, Healthy Planet’. We’ve always cared about the environment – it’s in our DNA – but we’re now thinking bigger and trying to do as much as we can to have a positive impact on the planet,” Crowe said.
(Photo credit: Supplied)

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