TREASURE ISLAND (FOX 13) - Anyone who's visited any of the beaches in Pinellas County may have noticed something different in their drinks. But it's not what they're drinking. It's how they're drinking, and it's part of growing movement to clean up the Gulf Coast.
Businesses throughout Treasure Island and Madeira Beach are ditching plastic foam, straws, and bags -- exchanging them for paper products.
It started with one picture: Julie Featherston's 5-year-old son Harper with a handful of sandy plastic straws on Sunset Beach last October. Once it made the rounds, that was the last straw.
"We see straws, we see cigarette butts, we see the plastic pieces related to cigarettes," said Kinsley McEachern of the Suncoast Surfrider Foundation. "It caused this really large movement that took off."
Less than a year later, the impact has been "EPIC," as in the "Environmental Preservation Initiative for our Communities."
Treasure Island and Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce just launched the movement. Its first target will be local bars and restaurants.
"Some of the mandatories we are asking for is plastic straws upon request and/or paper straw substitute, no carry out plastic bags, Styrofoam alternatives," explained Chairing Board Member for EPIC, Gregory Tong.
There is no ordinance passed, so the campaign is voluntary. But, it's catching on.
"One of the biggest things we are doing is, we first ask our guests to take a straw upon request only," said Caddy's on the Beach General Manager Ken Hautmann. "We are using a paper alternative that is biodegradable."
Caddy's on the Beach was among the first to make the switch. Sure, paper straws cost more, but they're not handing out as many.
"It makes you realize something you took for granted, as simple as a plastic straw, and about what it can do to the environment," Hautmann said.
Daquiri Shak in Madeira Beach changes over on Monday. No more foam cups for them, only paper to-go boxes and bags. Straws in non-alcoholic drinks will be by request only.
It may sound minor, but those little pieces of plastic not only pollute the beach, they wreak havoc on wildlife. A video of a sea turtle near Costa Rica with a straw stuck in its nose went viral last year, exposing how damaging one straw can be.
"Hey, you know, if that can happen there, it can happen here, so let's be proactive," Hautmann said.
There are still customers not ready to ditch the plastic. FOX 13 News spoke to one man who still brings his own plastic straw. Those behind the movement know, with anything, it's one step at a time.
"It shouldn't just be about straws. There's a big picture out here. Our first stage is the reduction of all plastics," Tong said.
"This is our environment for the rest of our lives, for our kids, and if we want a clean environment, we have to act now," McEachern said.
Both mayors from Treasure Island and Madeira Beach are fully backing this program and want it to be permanent. Even police officers will be part of the effort, passing out pamphlets to local businesses.
The EPIC group hopes to build a green model here, that can someday be used in beach communities around the state.