When Jayne Ertel and Heidi Vance opened Counter Coffeebar and Lounge five years ago, they remodeled the space with repurposed metal from a friend’s farm building. They used reclaimed metal office chairs. The bar top is made out of wood from a tree that had to be cut down after it was hit by lightning. 

Ertel and Vance have always been ahead of the sustainability curve—all coffees, hot chocolates and other hot drinks are served in biodegradable cups, recyclable lids and sleeves made entirely from recycled fiber. Their latest move to make the planet more sustainable has been to switch from plastic straws to straws made from paper. 

“We had done some research on pricing and learned that paper straws are three to four times the cost of plastic straws, but the impact on the environment is worth the extra expense,” Ertel said.

Plastic straws can’t be recycled, and once they are in the environment, they never disappear. Straws and stirrers comprise approximately 7 percent of plastic in the environment, according to the Better Alternatives Now pollution research nonprofit. Remember the viral video of blood streaming from a sea turtle’s nostril, as researchers worked to dislodge a four-inch plastic straw?  

A recent report by the World Economic Forum projects that by the year 2050, the plastic in our oceans will outweigh the fish. 

“We’ve never used styrofoam, even though it’s a fraction of the cost,” Ertel said. “We also recently added new food items – paninis and breakfast sandwiches- made with humanely-sourced meats, cheeses, and eggs in an effort to avoid supporting factory farming because factory farms are one of the biggest contributors to climate change.”

Counter Coffee even sells sets of reusable steel straws, complete with a pipe cleaner. The coffee shop at 7324 Madison St. is not the only business in town aware of how bad plastic straws are for the environment.  

Across Madison Street, Mark Hosty, manager of Healy’s Westside, became aware of plastic straws impact to the oceans when the Shedd Aquarium commissioned a mural on the side of 7321 Madison St.  several months ago.

Now each table at Healy’s has a cardboard table tent which reads, “#SheddTheStraw. We are collaborating with Shedd Aquarium to protect our waters and the animals that call them home.  Deciding not to use a straw in your drink seems like a small gesture, but the 500 million plastic straws Americans use every day add up to a big problem for our oceans, lakes and rivers.”

Hosty said he decided not to go with paper straws because, when used with alcoholic drinks, the chemical interaction can change the flavor of the drink.  Instead, Healy’s serves all their drinks without straws and will provide them only if a customer requests them to do so.  

Vance and Hosty both said that customer response has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

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