LONG BRANCH — As the owner of many restaurants around the state, Tim McCloone said, he wanted to make his business as environmentally friendly as possible.

His most recent step in this process was the elimination of plastic straws in all 10 of his restaurants. Plastic straws are also being phased out by larger companies like Starbucks, and while McCloone said he knows it will help, he's also conceded that "it's more symbolic than anything."

"What's great about it is it makes people ask 'why didn't you give me a straw?' so you can actually start a dialogue," he said.

McCloone enlisted the help of Cindy Zipf and Clean Ocean Action to help in his effort, and said he is proud of the results so far. He also said that especially when it comes to the bar side of his business, he can remember a time when straws were not a part of regular drink consumption.

"It's more that you've gotten used to the idea that you have straws," he said. "A lot of people will sip on a drink, an adult beverage, through a straw in a sense to almost slow them down. If somebody got a scotch on the rocks 25 years ago, there was never a straw in that. They'll get a straw now and they'll stir with it and drink through that little sip stick straw."

He said it has been about a month the restaurants phased out the plastic straws, and admitted there's "going to have to be some cultural changes of what people are used to."

Zipf said since her organization started doing beach sweeps in 1985, plastic straws have been in the top 10 types of items collected every year. The beach-cleaning events happen twice a year every year, and the group has collected more than 400,000 straws in that short window. She also said she hoped to see more restaurants remove single-use plastics from their operations.

"Single-use plastic should be oh so 1970s or '80s," she said. "These are all the things that we find by the thousands on the beach, and they're all used for a fraction of an amount of time, and then they become a legacy for hundreds of years," she said.

Not only can the single-use plastics make a mess of the beaches, but Zipf said also pose a danger to animals in the ocean that might mistake them for food. And, because they are made with petroleum, the straws and plastics can also have a lasting impact on the environment.

Zipf credited McCloone for the "journey" he's on to be more environmentally friendly and hopes it will encourage others to do the same.

"He's embarking on a journey to not just get rid of straws, which a lot of people are doing, but to look at his entire restaurant practice and see where the use of single plastics are occurring and to try to winnow away and to try to reduce any of the single-use items that he's using," she said.

"We didn't get to this disposable nightmare overnight, and we're not going to get out of it overnight," Zipf said. "When you become mindful of it it's really kind of fun to make it a challenge to see how plastic-free you can become."

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