Myrtle Beach, S.C. (WPDE) — As the Grand Strand looked to the upcoming tourism season in early May, a group of environmentalists decided to take action.
Seeing a movement against plastic straws spreading around the country, members of the Chirping Bird Society wanted to get restaurants in the Myrtle Beach area on board.
When WPDE first started following the campaign, 13 restaurants had signed up.
"We have a nice selection [of locations] throughout the Grand Strand so far, and we're hoping to get hundreds," The Chirping Bird Society's Cathy Tourloukis said, at the time.
Fueled by media coverage, fliers printed by the Dead Dog Saloon, and a grassroots-style team of volunteers, Tourloukis achieved her goal. As of Labor Day, 300 restaurants had pledged to only serve straws upon request.
While the movement's "official" kick-off happened June 21, most of the final 300 restaurants were already withholding straws. ABC15 tracked plastic straw usage during the 99-day, Memorial Day to Labor Day stretch.
We decided to find out how much of an impact the movement had.
Throughout the summer, we randomly called 150 of the 300 restaurants, and asked staff members to estimate how many customers each served. We collected figures from about 100 of them.
To be clear, Strand Strawless Summer was based on the honor system. We have no way of knowing that every server at every restaurant followed the rules every day, and we know that some customers asked for straws, which would affect our estimates.
Our phone call campaign led us to figuring out that the restaurants, on average, served an estimated 300 customers per day. The actual numbers ranged from a few dozen to several thousand.
Managers and owners of many of the restaurants asked us to keep the individual numbers hidden for privacy.
If no straws were served at any of the 300 restaurants during the 99-day span, the campaign would have kept 8,910,000 straws from being used.
If you only count straws saved after the official start date, the campaign conserved 6,750,000 straws.
"Nine million," the Chirping Bird Society's Corinne Hellyer exclaimed. "I hope we get to see that one day. I want to see what that looks like."
Nine million straws is a lot of plastic.
While the average straw weighs almost nothing (nine ten-thousandths of a pound to be exact), 9,000,000 straws weighs about 8,000 pounds, or four tons.
That’s about the same as a large hippopotamus, or three Kia Souls.
"I don't really think we take an inventory of the amount of waste that we create," Hellyer said, explaining that the purpose of the campaign was to make people realize that small actions can add up.
While four tons might seem high, it’s tiny compared to the estimated 8,000,000 tons of plastic environmentalists estimate enters the ocean every year.
The Chirping Bird Society hopes the Myrtle Beach area can keep making progress toward reducing its share.
"How do we make four tons, eight tons," Hellyer asked. "That's exciting."
For restaurant managers and owners interested in joining the plastic-free movement, Hellyer pointed to The Surfrider Foundation, which helps restaurants make the switch.
Locally, organizers have created a new campaign, "Sensational Strawless Strand," which they plan on using to carry the straw-free movement into the fall.