The straws will disappear gradually, starting with a policy switch next month. Beginning in November, the casual dining chain will offer plastic straws to customers only upon request. Then in 2020, Red Lobster will replace the plastic straws entirely with “an eco-friendly alternative,” which has not yet been specified.
Through this change, the company expects to eliminate nearly 150 million plastic straws per year from over 700 restaurants.
“This is a meaningful step in our long-standing commitment to protect and preserve the world’s oceans and marine life,” Kim Lopdrup, the CEO of Red Lobster, said in a press release.
“We hope our work helps raise awareness around the issue of plastic straws and encourages other businesses to make similar changes.”
Red Lobster is currently testing options for its new alternative straw. While the brand has not indicated which materials are on the table, it says it will consult disability advocates “to help inform the selection of a new product.”
Although the movement against plastic straws — and single-use plastics as a whole — aims to promote healthy oceans, many have criticized complete bans for excluding customers with disabilities. Many straw alternatives, including metal and paper, are either too inflexible or too flimsy to adequately replace plastic straws, which people with certain neuromuscular or mobility disabilities rely on to drink.
Venues like the House of Blues have enacted policies that address this need by making plastic straws available on request to customers who need them. While Red Lobster will operate on a request-only basis for just slightly over a year, it claims its eventual straw alternative will accommodate diners with disabilities.
“We have a diverse guest base, so it’s important that we identify a straw product that accounts for that and meets a broad variety of guest needs,” Lopdrup said in the release.
Plastic straw bans have already hit Seattle and Oakland, while many more are in the works in cities and at companies across the globe. The concept has gained rapid momentum in a relatively short time-frame, leading environmentalists to wonder if plastic bags or balloons could be next.