How local bars are investing in sustainability

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While the movement to decrease the use of plastics has grown in recent months, with big-name companies and governments making promises to phase out plastic straws, bags and containers, it’s actually old news to several restaurants and bars in West Michigan.

Grand Rapids-based BarFly Ventures, the parent company of several bars and restaurants including Stella’s and HopCat, hasn’t used plastic straws in more than four years.

“Restaurants produce a lot of waste. Every single piece of produce that they get in comes in boxes, bags and there’s a lot that goes out and a lot can be sorted out,” Carrie Veldman, who leads the sustainability program at BarFly, said.

BarFly has set a goal to compost or recycle 90 percent of the waste that comes through the door.

Brian McDonald, a HopCat patron, appreciates the efforts. He said restaurants’ sustainability affects where he chooses to eat.

“I usually eat my full meal, but if not and I get it to go, I’m pretty conscientious about when I see a Styrofoam to-go container. I hate it,” McDonald said.

“(It is) good that the breweries are actually thinking about what happens to all the waste products that go out of these places,” J.R. Muller, another HopCat patron, added.

But the investment can be costly. Some estimates put the price of switching to paper straws at 10 times the cost of plastic straws. Food service products company PackNWood told CNBC that paper straws cost about 2.5 cents compared to a half-cent for plastic straws.

Still, BarFly Marketing Director Chris Knape says it’s an investment worth making.

“We think it says a lot to our employees and our guests that we care as much about what goes out our back door as what comes in our front door,” Knape said.

He also pointed out there are some offsets to the higher cost. The company’s trash bill has declined as it sends far less waste to incinerators or landfills.

BarFly says it spends only $3 more per year per venue by switching to compostable straws and to-go boxes.

The company was named West Michigan’s Sustainable Business of the Year in 2017.

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