Restaurants and businesses in Ventura are pledging to ditch single-use straws as part of the “Strawless Summer Challenge” launched by the Ventura County chapter of Surfrider Foundation, which seeks to raise awareness of the damage wrought by non-recyclable plastics and, in particular, straws. Come this weekend, one of Ventura County’s largest annual events will ditch straws as well when the Surf Rodeo kicks off in Ventura.

As of July 10, Surfrider says that 19 restaurants in Ventura have committed to the pledge, becoming straw-by-request, paper-straw-by-request or offering no straws entirely, and two in Ojai. Laura Oergel, Chapter Chair for Ventura County Surfrider Chapter and also lead for Surfrider’s Ocean-Friendly Restaurant Program, says that Surfrider is urging several more to join as well.

Restaurants that have taken the pledge include Barrelhouse 101, Ambrosia by Caffrodite, Jimmy’s Slice, Saloon BBQ Company and Harvest Cafe, to name just a few, according to Oergel.

Oergel says that taking part in Surfrider’s annual beach cleanup gives more than enough reason to take on the issue of straws in particular.

A sign displayed at Saloon BBQ, downtown Ventura, signaling a move away from plastic straws.

“We tally every piece of trash by separating it into the type of trash that it is,” said Oergel. In 2017, the cleanup took place at the promenade near the Ventura Pier. “Last year alone we collected over 2,500 straws.”

Oergel says that aside from cigarette butts, straws are the most numerous items of refuse collected during the cleanup.

In fact, worldwide, straws are the fifth most-found litter item on beaches, according to the nonprofit environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy, with an estimated 500 million straws used and discarded daily in the United States alone.

The movement has gained steam in recent months, with major corporations and restaurants ditching plastic for something more environmentally friendly. International coffee retailer Starbucks announced on Monday, June 9, that it would scrap straws globally by 2020, choosing instead to offer recyclable lids, which the company says will save 1 billion plastic straws from being wasted annually.

Joining Starbucks are Hilton Hotels, Alaska Airlines and Bon Appétit Management Company, which serves over 1,000 locations including museums and universities. McDonald’s announced in June that it would begin testing straw alternatives later this year.

The movement to ban straws worldwide picked up steam in 2017 with the release of the documentary Straws by filmmaker Linda Booker, which documented the impact that non-recyclable plastics have on the environment. Video footage of straws being removed from sea creatures, such as a viral video of a sea turtle rescue in which a straw is removed from its nostril, have lent the movement urgency.

Surf Rodeo Media Coordinator Allie Weigel says that on Monday, July 16, following the event, organizers will work with Surfrider in hosting a beach cleanup from 10 a.m. to noon.

“So much of the local culture in Ventura is centered [on] the beach, anyone who grew up around here has likely spent many of their days enjoying our beautiful coastline,” said Weigel. “When the beach is a part of what made you the person you are today and has brought you joy throughout your life, then of course you want to protect your happy place. . . . By eliminating the use of straws from our event, we as a community are one step closer to moving away from single-use plastics that end up harming our coastal environment.”

Weigel says that straws will be available by request for people with disabilities and that organizers may consider paper straws for next year’s event.

“It’s an easy transfer to make and we’re hoping that because we’re a large event, other events will follow suit,” said Weigel.

Oergel says that Surfrider’s goal is to enroll 30 restaurants by the end of summer and to keep them as part of the program going forward, adding that the businesses that have been approached have been receptive to the concept, with few exceptions.

“Little by little, I believe that we’re creating awareness and that outreach is a lot of what Surfrider does,” said Oergel. “The first step is education and outreach, and things start to fall into place.”

For more information on the Surfrider Foundation and the Strawless Summer Challenge, visit www.ventura.surfrider.org.