Last summer, nearly a year before San Francisco became the first city to ban plastic straws, New York University student Antonio DiMeglio had dinner at the Jersey Shore restaurant Labrador Lounge with his family.
When DiMeglio sat down, he noticed a sign on the wall about the restaurant’s “plastic straw policy.” The sign explained that the lounge was concerned about ocean pollution and thus “was only serving plastic straws upon request.”
“I was so shocked I took a photo,” DiMeglio said.
“Although I grew up going to the beach every other weekend since I lived nearby, this was the first time I saw a small business taking a stance to protect the ocean that was just a few blocks away.”
Months later, DiMeglio couldn’t stop thinking about it. And naturally, since he was studying Sustainable Business, he developed the idea for what is now Seastraws, the first student-run compostable straw company.
“The initial idea came to me in March 2018,” DiMeglio said. “By summer 2018, Seastraws was already three or four months old and I already recruited other students to get on board. We had our product being manufactured by May and our first sales in June.”
“You could say we got really lucky with the timing,” he added.
While news of California’s straw ban went viral, staff at NYU’s Office of Sustainability (NYUOS) mulled over the prospect of instituting a similar ban on campus, according to Sophie Kenney, 20, who now works for both NYUOS and Seastraws.
“One of the problems NYU officials had when deliberating on whether to ban plastic straws was the issue of supply. Where would NYU get all the compostable or reusable straws from?" Kennedy said.
Luckily, NYU found an answer in its own backyard. On September 26, NYU quietly announced their move to eliminate plastic straws in dining halls. By October, Seastraws cut its biggest deal yet, to supply a semester’s worth of compostable straws to NYU.
“It was a dream come true for my team and I,” DiMeglio said. “I had to pinch myself because in real life dreams don’t always become true no matter how hard you work for them.”
While DiMeglio couldn’t divulge how many straws NYU purchased, he did refer to the NYU press release, which notes that the plastic straw ban “will mean 1,140,000 fewer plastic straws in the waste stream annually.”
Going forward, DiMeglio and his team hope to expand to other colleges.
But while they wait, they already have more than 40 restaurants in the Greater New York area that have jumped on board: Ruby’s Cafe in lower Manhattan, the Italian restaurant Locanda Verde, and Michael’s, just one block away from the Museum of Modern Art.
“We're having slow success, but only NYU has committed to using compostable straws as far as I know. … We definitely want to partner with more universities,” he said.