Did you know your 'disposable' straw, though only used for moments, lies in landfill for up to 200 years?

A Levin cafe is leading by example and has moved to degradable and biodegradable products, hoping other food outlets will do the same.

Genevieve Richardson moved back to Levin three years ago to co-manage Whispers Cafe, and her first decision was to replace all plastic cutlery with completely compostable corn-starch products. She has steadily been replacing all plastic products with biodegradable options, even lids of takeaway coffee cups.

After watching around 100 straws be thrown away per day, she knew something had to be done. The cafe stopped offering straws with bottles and began looking for options.

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Innocent Packaging, an Auckland based company offered biodegradable options. The straws, which look like plastic, are actually made of a naturally-occurring plant sugar called Poly Lactic Acid (PLA). Innocent Packaging also use PLA to make cups, lids, cutlery and lids.

Changing to something biodegradable was a small financial contribution for the greater good, Ms Richardson said.

300 plastic straws cost $3 and 300 biodegradable straws cost $9.

The only plastic used was butter trays - for now.

"I want to work for a business that tries to do its very best in every area," she said. "At Whispers we now not only have good food and coffee but we are doing our part to be good to the environment ... especially in Horowhenua we need to be conscious of where our waste ends up. We have to think about the future generations."

She said that when working in the food industry there are some plastics that can't be avoided, such as wrapping food for hygiene purposes, but that the cafe was making changes in all the areas they had control over.

Whispers' decision to create a more sustainable food business is one that Ms Richardson hopes will not only inspire customers, but other businesses as well.

"I hope our choices educate others, especially in the food industry because we go through a lot of packaging," she said.

"It's totally worth it. For us its non-negotiable now - we are never going back to plastic."

Ms Richardson issued a challenge to other local food businesses to become more mindful of their environmental footprint.

"Step up guys - think about the bigger picture," she said.

"Your packaging company supplier, I guarantee, sells biodegradable products, you just have to ask.

"Even if you just start with changing one thing, a small change makes a big difference in the end."

Ms Richardson's next step was to find an alternative to certified food grade cleaning products.

She said that to get an A grade they were required to use very strong chemical cleaners but that she was looking for healthier and less hazardous alternatives.

Ms Richardson said she ensures everything possible gets recycled but was perplexed as to why Levin doesn't have any compostable landfill. She issued the challenge for someone to take up the "huge opportunity" of creating one.

Whispers is the first cafe in Levin to become plastic straw free, something that local woman and SEAWEEK regional co-ordinator Angelina Smith-McBrydie hopes all cafes will take on.

"I am hoping to approach cafes in the area to go plastic straw free, this Seaweek which is from March 3-11," she said.
The initiative follows the example of Rangiora woman Elisa Leach who came up with the idea of "Plastic Straw Free Rangiora" and managed to see the whole town ditch the environmentally-unfriendly practice.

"If one café in Levin can do it, I am sure other cafes could follow," she said.

"It is big companies that we might have issues with like McDonald's and KFC that might prove difficult, but it is a challenge worth taking on."

If you wish to make some changes, Ms Richardson can be contacted at whisperscafe176@gmail.com.

If youare a business owner willing to commit to ditching plastic products such as staws and using more environmentally friendly options, we want to know about it! Email us at news@chronicle.co.nz