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Jun 5, 2018 2:11 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Local Restaurants Ditch Plastic Straws As Part Of Surfrider Foundation Campaign

Jamie Betham, owner of Mambo Kitchen in Westhampton Beach. ELSIE BOSKAMP
Jun 5, 2018 3:58 PM

This winter, Jamie and Olga Betham, the owners of Mambo Kitchen in Westhampton Beach, took their kids, Alex, 10, and Carmen, 5, to the beach near their home in Maui, Hawaii. They watched them swim and snorkel—and when they came out of the water, their hair was full of dozens of small shreds of plastic.

The pieces were smaller than pebbles, no bigger than an eighth of an inch, and had apparently blown onto the beach from the Great Pacific garbage patch, a Texas-sized area of garbage that floats just off the shores of the Hawaiian Islands.

“Once the kids were out of the water, I put on my snorkel mask and went out for a little bit, and I was just swimming in this soup of plastic,” Mr. Betham said. “After that, I said, ‘We can’t contribute to that—at some point, we’ve got to stop, we have to make the decision to not be part of that.’”

On that day, Mr. Betham decided that he needed to do something to help combat the growing amount of debris in the Earth’s oceans. He decided to start small: by minimizing the amount of plastic that his seasonal restaurant, Mambo Kitchen, uses.

The café, which opened for the season in mid-May, is doing away with virtually all plastic products, including straws, cups, bowls and utensils.

Mambo Kitchen, like many of the 19 local restaurants that agreed to a pledge sought by the Eastern Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an organization that strives to protect the oceans—including Little Red in Southampton, and The Surf Lodge in Montauk—decided to eradicate almost all plastic products after taking the vow to ditch plastic straws.

“We decided to start with straws, because it’s something simple to get rid of,” said Colleen Henn, Surfrider’s Eastern Long Island Chapter coordinator. “You don’t really need a straw, and it’s kind of a gateway into a bigger conversation on single-use plastics and how they affect our marine life.”

Ms. Henn works with a group of approximately 40 volunteers and goes door to door encouraging restaurant owners to say no to plastic straws. With 19 restaurants already on board, the group has surpassed its initial goal of getting 10 restaurants to take the pledge this summer.

Mambo Kitchen is the first Westhampton Beach eatery to take Surfrider’s Strawless Summer pledge, a program that encourages restaurants to go completely strawless, providing biodegradable straws only upon request.

Last week, the restaurant owners got rid of all plastic straws—they now only offer paper straws to customers who really need them—and they stopped using plastic cups, using only biodegradable corn-based products. In the coming weeks, Mr. Betham plans to replace all the plastic utensils and dishes with paper- and corn-based products.

The café also has been offering paper bags instead of plastic, and cardboard to-go boxes instead of Styrofoam, since opening on Main Street in 2014.

Although paper straws can be more than 10 times more expensive than plastic straws—he said he paid 15 cents per straw for the new paper straws, compared to less than 2 cents per straw for the plastic straws his restaurant previously used—Mr. Betham said the higher cost did not deter him from taking Surfrider’s pledge. He since has found a different brand of paper straws, which he is purchasing from Amazon at a cost of 4 cents per straw.

“I knew they were more expensive, but it wasn’t part of the equation,” he said. “The plastic problem is so big that it needs to be tackled at the root. We can’t just be dealing with the waste when it shows up—we’ve got to fix the waste from happening.”

With a long-term goal of implementing a nationwide ban on plastic straws, Ms. Henn, who has been involved with Surfrider for the past four years, said she hopes the local changes will encourage people near and far to say no to plastic straws, and instead use reusable options like bamboo, paper or stainless steel.

In Southampton, Little Red just got its first order of paper straws last week. Assistant Manager Dara Abrams said that, like Mambo Kitchen, the restaurant is pushing to move away from single-use plastics, and the hope that local eateries will follow its lead.

“We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world—our beaches are beautiful—and we need to take steps to ensure that it stays that way,” Ms. Abrams said. “The amount of plastic we use as a country is just out of hand.”

According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, a global organization aimed at minimizing single-use plastics, Americans discard more than 30 million tons of plastic each year, only 8 percent of which gets recycled.

Much of this plastic winds up on beaches and in the ocean, Ms. Henn explained. At a Surfrider-sponsored beach cleanup on May 19 at Cupsogue Beach County Park, which sits at the westernmost end of Dune Road, 11 volunteers collected 63 plastic bottle caps, 62 plastic bottles, 43 plastic food wrappers, 18 plastic shopping bags, 35 plastic straws, and other items, including balloons, plastic cups and aluminum cans.

Surfrider reports that 500 million straws are used every day in the United States, and, at a recent beach cleanup in Greenport, local Surfrider volunteers removed 922 straws from the beach.

Ms. Abrams said that beach litter was a main reason that Little Red joined Surfrider’s Strawless Summer campaign. “We’re trying to do what we can,” she said. “It’s such a great place and, just walking the beaches, it’s a shame when you see garbage.”

Southampton Town Councilwoman Julie Lofstad, who is supporting Surfrider’s movement to ditch plastic straws, agreed that plastics on Long Island’s shores continue to pose great environmental threats. Ms. Lofstad, who makes her own bamboo straws, is encouraging people on the East End to change their behavior by refusing to use plastic straws, and buying reusable items instead of single-use plastic products.

“I would love to see us come as close to plastic-free as we could, and for things that we can’t, everything should be recycled,” Ms. Lofstad said. “I think the tide is changing, and I think people are realizing that a straw is something we don’t need—because, isn’t that what our lips are for?”

Ms. Lofstad also noted that plastics are likely contributing to the East End’s water problems.

It was for that reason that The Surf Lodge, a popular restaurant and hotel in Montauk, took Surfrider’s pledge.

“Going plastic-free is the right thing to do, not only for the planet but it makes the ‘rosé all day’ mantra safer for our oceans,” said Jayma Cardoso, the owner of The Surf Lodge, referring to a special event planned this summer. “The Surf Lodge is committed to supporting sustainable, environmentally friendly products and services.”

Tara Kappel, a Remsenburg resident and frequent customer of Mambo Kitchen, said she’s inspired by the push to ditch plastic products at local restaurants and said that she thinks people on the East End will be open to the change. “It’s really great—everybody should do it,” Ms. Kappel said.

For Mr. Betham, seeing more and more restaurants pledge to eliminate plastic straws is encouraging, but, he said, it’s only the first step in the fight to eliminate plastic waste on the East End.

“Anything disposable is the thing we’re trying to get away from,” said Mr. Betham, who said he plans to discuss a villagewide plastic straw ban with Westhampton Beach officials and business owners. “I think what we would like to get to, eventually—I’m talking in maybe 10 years—is how people are now having to take their own bags to the supermarket. I’m thinking, and hoping, that people will get used to this, and if they want takeout coffee, they’ll take their takeout mug and go rinse it out and use it again tomorrow.”

Ms. Henn said that she expects people to react to this growing movement to eliminate plastic straws in a similar manner as people reacted to Suffolk County’s decision to charge 5 cents for plastic bags.

“Like every change out here, a lot of times when you remove something that people are used to, they get defensive, and they resist it, but eventually people adapt,” Ms. Henn said. “Obviously, any change is met with resistance—but we have to do what we have to do.”

Restaurants participating 
in Surfrider’s 
Strawless Summer:

• Provisions, Sag Harbor

• Left Hand Coffee & Bakery / Left Hand Coffee, Montauk

• The Montauk Beach House, Montauk

• Canal Café, Hampton Bays

• Long Island Aquarium, Riverhead

• Almond, Bridgehampton

• Westlake Fish House, Montauk

• Pierre’s / Pierre’s Market, Bridgehampton and Sagaponack

• Dockside Bar & Grill, Sag Harbor

• Little Creek Oyster Farm & Market, Greenport

• Oaklands Restaurant and Marina, Hampton Bays

• Page at 63 Main, Sag Harbor

• Hampton Bays Middle School & High School, Hampton Bays

• The Surf Lodge, Montauk

• Mambo Kitchen, Westhampton Beach

• Bell & Anchor, Sag Harbor

• Little Red, Southampton

• Sundays On The Bay, Hampton Bays

• Peconic Cellar Door, Peconic

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I commend Mambo Kitchen for there efforts on eliminating plastic. The issues of plastic in our oceans is so under-reported and in many ways a more provable issue then global warming (albeit I am all for clean waters, air, and land- lets strive to eliminate all sources if only for a better environment no matter what your views). The depletion of fish in our oceans as a result of over fishing, man made pollution including the waste fields of plastic and other garbage is destroying a food source and ...more
By Bobt (48), WHB on Jun 8, 18 7:46 AM
1 member liked this comment
I would not go to a restaurant that did not use a straw. Put in your mouth on a cup where hands were touching is disgusting. Germs!
By Win sky (58), Southampton on Jun 8, 18 9:38 AM
They're called paper straws silly. Ever heard of 'em?
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Jun 8, 18 10:03 AM
1 member liked this comment
Fair point about germs. Wouldn't those same germs be on plates and utensils? How does one drink hot beverages using a straw? Is one to drink quality alcoholic beverages using a straw and/or disposable cups? Drinking a nice coffee/wine out of a disposable cup and/or with a straw doesn't do it for me.

Thank you to the participating businesses for pledging to reduce their use of plastics which will outlast any of us : )
By Aeshtron (431), Southampton on Jun 8, 18 10:15 AM
It’s a start, it’s not a bad thing.
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Jun 8, 18 11:14 AM
Thank you Surfrider Foundation!! and Thank you to all the participating restaurants!! Our shorelines are littered with too much garbage. As an island we should be setting an example . If u see something, say something...If u see garbage, pick it up plz.
By toes in the water (884), southampton on Jun 11, 18 7:14 AM