'Say No to Plastic Straws,' Jonesborough-based organization promoting metal, hay straws

Zach Vance • Jun 27, 2018 at 11:30 PM

Doing small things can sometimes make a big difference.

Even something as trivial as changing the kind of straw you slurp your beverage through. 

The Straw Initiative, launched by the Jonesborough-based, eco-friendly organization SmashParks, hosted a “Say No to Plastic Straws” event Wednesday at Dos Gatos Coffee Bar to promote the use of metal and hay straws as alternatives to using plastic straws. 

What’s the problem with plastic straws, you might ask?

Well, according to Eco-Cycle, 500 million straws are used in the United States every day, and that figure is based on estimates provided to Eco-Cycle by straw manufacturers. Some environmental groups believe that estimate could be too low. 

Plastic straws are not biodegradable and difficult to recycle; some experts say it could take up to 200 years, if not longer, for a single plastic straw to decompose. 

In May, SmashParks launched The Straw Initiative by providing five local restaurants and cafes in Jonesborough and Johnson City with stainless steel and hay straws, with the goal of helping those businesses eventually go plastic-free. 

So far, Dos Gatos, the Willow Tree Coffeehouse & Music Room, Cranberries, the Corner Cup and Main Street Cafe & Catering have joined the effort. 

Dos Gatos owner Dick Nelson said his cafe started offering the metal straws a couple months ago. 

“We’ve always used compostable or recyclable (cups and lids) with everything, but straws had always been that one thing. When (SmashParks) came and made that offer to us, it just made perfect sense,” Nelson said. 

“We need to minimize plastics because that’s what it comes down to, and using (metal) straws is a little thing that everybody can do.” 

SmashParks Project Manager Liz Crandall said her organization researched different metal straws that varied in circumference before ultimately settling on the bent concept, made of 304 food-grade stainless steel, that customers got to sample on Wednesday. 

Because the metal straws are meant to be reused, Cantrall said a thin, bendable brush, which can be bought online, can be used to clean the inside of the straws. 

“We have the hay straws, too. We chose these over paper straws because they’re more likely to last. Paper straws can become soggy and these do not,” Crandall said. “The restaurants can offer the hay straws as a to-go option.” 

Metal and hay straws can be purchased through SmashParks by visiting https://www.pappisplanet.com/shop. 

Proceeds from those purchases will go towards SmashParks’ goal of conserving land. 

SmashParks was founded by Robert Jones in early 2017 to manage a mobile gaming project called Smoggle Smash that can be played for free on the iTunes App Store or Google Play store. According to its website, each transaction made in-game will go toward the conservation of land. 

In addition to gaming, SmashParks Inc. was also formed to manage properties conserved through the SmashParks initiative, including a 1,453-acre property in West Virginia.

“SmashParks is currently working toward the full conservation of the beautiful Misingwa Park, West Virginia,” a message on its website reads. “In addition, SmashParks has plans for the first community garden offering in Jonesborough, TN where our headquarters is located.”

To learn more about SmashParks, visit https://www.smashparks.com/. 

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