'A huge problem:' Plastic Free MKE helps Milwaukee businesses 'better our community, the world'

Strange Town

MILWAUKEE -- On any given night, Strange Town on Milwaukee’s east side is packed with people looking for unique cuisine.  Of all the things to taste and try, there is something you won’t find at the restaurant.

“We are 100% free of plastic waste,” said Clare McGuire, Strange Town social media manager.

The vegan restaurant is taking an eco-friendly approach to dining.  All single-use plastics are gone, from the bar to the food, and even the boxes customers leave with.

Hacienda Beer Co.

“We like to spend money on things that are important to us, as well as important to our community,” McGuire said. “Being free of single-use plastic is a huge importance to us.”

Strange Town is not alone.  Hacienda Beer Co. opened its doors with the same idea.

“We're new," said Jayk Burczyk, general manager. "We want to set the precedent. We want our footprint to be as shallow as possible.”

The restaurants are part of about a dozen in the area offering their own flavors, but sharing a common thread thanks, in part, to Plastic Free MKE.

“Most of us were already working towards reducing plastic in our lifestyle, and we felt that the need was to expand it to the community and the neighborhoods that we live in,” said Meenal Atre, Plastic Free MKE member.

The organization is comprised of about 60 members who have gone from business to business, asking them to eliminate plastic waste.  Those businesses then get special recognition called Lake Friendly Certification.

“Lake Friendly Certification is a way that a business can stand out in the community as a plastic-free or minimally plastic and Styrofoam use establishment,” said Gracie Sherer, Plastic Free MKE member.

Sherer and Atre are passionate about eliminating single-use plastics and keeping precious resources like Lake Michigan clean.

Researchers have found even beer brewed using water from the Great Lakes can contain microplastics.  Experts say that's due in part to the estimated 22 million pounds of plastic pollution found in Lake Michigan.

“That's a huge problem,” Atre said.  “And unlike the ocean, this trash is our own trash. It's not coming from some different part of the world.  It is our own waste that's washing ashore.”

That’s why businesses on the shores of Lake Michigan are taking steps to improve the area around them.

The next time you go out for a meal, you might not even notice what’s missing.

“Anything we can do to better our community and on a much bigger scale, the world, we might as well take full advantage,” Burczyk said.

Plastic Free MKE meets once a month.  Those meetings are open to the public.

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