Alamo Drafthouse leads U.S. cinema chains in eliminating plastic straws

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Alamo Drafthouse is eliminating the use of plastic straws, leading other U.S. theatre chains by doing so in the wake a growing groundswell to ban the drinking aid.

All of Alamo's company-owned locations nationwide will discontinue use of plastic straws, replacing them with a corn-based biodegradable straw by the end of the month, CEO Tim League of the Austin, Texas headquartered theater chain tells The Hollywood Reporter. That represents about half of its 35 theatres, including locations in Austin, Kansas City, New York, Raleigh, San Antonio and San Francisco.

Eliminating plastic straws will be combined with a program that is already in place across the chain, where straws are only available by request. "Our Denver general manager first put the plan in place. It cut straw usage significantly; it's about 75 percent down," League says.

Alamo will also urge its franchise owners, making up the other half of Alamo locations, to take the same steps to eliminate the use of plastic straws, and a number of them have already agreed to the new policy. "This makes sense," he says. "It's the right thing to do for the environment. And while the biodegradable straws are more expensive, they will still see savings" because coupled with the request-only program, there's been a steep reduction in straw use. Alamo is also preparing a white paper about its findings about straw use to distribution to franchise owners.

Alamo's new policy comes as Starbucks vowed on Monday to eliminate plastic straws from its stores nationwide by 2020, opting instead for an “adult sippy cup”-style lid.

Earlier this month, Seattle became the first major U.S. city to ban plastic straws, a prohibition that includes cinema owners. Similar legislation could soon be proposed in major hubs including New York and Los Angeles, the two biggest moviegoing markets in the country.

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter it is an issue of increasing concern to theatre owners. In 2017, an estimated 1.236 million people made trips to the cinema, where popcorn and soda lead concession sales.

"A hurdle is that this has been a part of moviegoing, but we are a little different," Alamo's League says. "We don't have the super tanker sodas; we use more of a restaurant size, so it's a little easier."

The choice to transition away from straws is a part of large push to eliminate single-use plastic materials, which includes straws and plastic utensils, due to the environmental danger that they pose. The European Union and the U.K. have proposed bans on plastic straws and related items as part of this effort.

While Alamo makes the transition, most other U.S. theatre operators have declined comment on their plans regarding plastic straws. The National Association of Theatre Owners hasn't weighed in publicly, either.

One exception is Cinépolis USA.

"While Cinépolis hasn’t implemented anything quite yet, removing single-use plastic straws is something we are strongly considering,” Annelise Holyoak, Cinépolis USA national director of marketing and communications," tells THR. “We’re currently researching options and how we’d implement this effort across all of our theatres throughout the U.S., including our upcoming luxury theatre opening in Pacific Palisades this September.”

In Canada, Cineplex switched from single-use plastic to compostable straws at 164 theatres countrywide in late 2017, as a short-term alternative, according to Cineplex spokeswoman Sarah Van Lange. Paper straws were ruled out longer-term, as they can’t stand up to two to three hours of sipping during a movie. Cineplex doesn't want soggy straws having drinks spill on guests in dark theatres, so it's still looking for a sustainable alternative.

Etan Vlessing and Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.—The Hollywood Reporter