Photo by Alex Brown / Flickr.

Did you sip from a disposable straw today? While Starbucks is busy phasing them out and Amazon is selling a rainbow of stainless steel options to replace landfill-clogging plastic straws, Pittsburgh’s restaurants are taking an even more creative approach.

They’re making something beautiful.

The Straw Forward campaign is combining environmental advocacy with public art by collecting used straws from more than two dozen Pittsburgh restaurants. They’ve been collecting the straws since June, and will continue into the fall, when they’ll hand over the mass of disposable plastic to the design and marketing agency Shift Collaborative

Shift’s team will then fashion them into a large-scale piece of public art. 

Restaurants participating in the program, which is an offshoot of the Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant program, include Bado’s Pizza, Bahn Mi and Ti and Cafe Fifth Avenue.

Collection boxes are available at local restaurants. Photo courtesy of Straw Forward.

“From the very beginning we’ve seen the Straw Forward campaign as a creative way to start meaningful conversations about the larger issue of plastic pollution,” says Rebecca Bykoski, manager of the Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant program.

The ecological harms of single-use plastics have recently garnered significant public concern. Items like straws, bags and cups can take years to disintegrate. And many cities, like Pittsburgh, do not accept these items in their residential recycling program due to the difficulty of sorting and processing them.

“Plastic straws, while currently drawing a great deal of national media attention, are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the negative ecological impact of all kinds of plastics pollution, ranging from single-use plastic straws to toys to commercial fishing nets,” says a statement from Straw Forward.

State legislatures in California, Hawaii and New York debated bills aimed at limiting single-use plastics in the past year. While the Hawaii effort failed, the bills in New York and California continue to move through their respective chambers.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.