The Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant program led a community art project. We collected single-use plastic straws and other plastic materials to build a sculpture, which we exhibited at the Carnegie Science Center from January 15, 2019 through February 15, 2019.

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What Is Straw Forward

Straw Forward is a collaborative effort of restaurants, businesses, and nonprofits to collect used and littered plastic-based items and turn them into a work of art in order to raise awareness and foster meaningful dialogue around the global-scale issues of single-use plastic waste and plastic pollution.

The Straw Forward art installation is made from yarn made from saved plastic bottles, plastic barrels, a pool cover, pool noodles, Styrofoam, over 25,000 plastic straws, plastic bags, crates, and other discarded plastic items.

All items used were donated, gathered from participating collection locations, or picked up as litter.

WQED’s Pittsburgh 360 highlights Straw Forward in this short video.

And here’s another behind the scenes video of our project (many thanks to Available Light for this film production)!

Exhibit Details

Location: Carnegie Science Center – RiverView Cafe

Exhibit Events:

  • Public launch on January 15, 2019
  • Public exhibition: January 15 – February 15 at the Carnegie Science Center (CSC).
  • Café Scientifique on February 4, 2019
    Panel discussion on February 4 at Carnegie Science Center’s Café Sci about the larger issue of plastic pollution and a behind-the-scenes video showing how the team created the installation.

Why Straws

Single-use plastic straws represent one small component of the negative ecological impact of plastic pollution, ranging from disposable items like take-out containers and water bottles, to beach toys and commercial plastic waste (e.g. barrels, fishing line/nets). Straws also represent a challenge in the waste stream as they cannot be recycled by traditional means. For plastics that aren’t responsibly disposed of or can’t be recycled, they continually break up over time, turning into tiny bits of microplastics, clogging the bellies of marine life and possibly ending up in the food humans eat.  

It is important to keep the needs of the disability rights community in these conversations as plastic straws and other single-use plastics improve the livability and access for people living with certain disabilities and medical conditions.


The Straw Forward project was made possible by our partners, who contributed their time and resources:

  • Allegheny CleanWays
    Allegheny CleanWays is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formed in 2000 to engage and empower people to eliminate illegal dumping and littering in Allegheny County. The Straw Forward team joined a river cleanup one weekend and non-straw plastic litter collected during the effort is being used within the Straw Forward art installation.
  • Best Buddies Pennsylvania
    Best Buddies International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The organization serves as a resource to the Straw Forward team on matters related to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • Construction Junction
    Construction Junction is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports and promotes conservation through the reuse of building materials. Non-plastic structural resources donated by Construction Junction are being used in the Straw Forward art installation.
  • First Mile (of Thread International)
    First Mile yarn begins as plastic bottles, and is responsibly sourced from Haiti, Honduras, and Taiwan supporting income generation around the world and keeping waste out of communities and our oceans. We’re using First Mile yarn to connect straws together in several elements within the sculpture.
  • Pennsylvania Resources Council
    The Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit environmental organization that leads and promotes individual and collective actions to preserve Pennsylvania’s environmental resources for each generation.
  • Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse
    Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse is a non-profit that inspires creativity, conservation, and community engagement through reuse. Plastic materials donated to the Center for Creative Reuse are used as integral elements of the Straw Forward art installation.
  • Shift Collaborative
    Shift Collaborative is a full-service creative agency based in East Liberty. The team at Shift executed the collection of over 25,000 straws from participating restaurants, the creation of the Straw Forward art installation, and contributed marketing and media relations support. Read their blog post about the Straw Forward project here.

Participating Restaurants & Businesses

Thank you to our friends at Patagonia Pittsburgh for their partnership in being a public drop-off site for plastic straws.

Thank you to our friends at Corner Mercantile  , GreenLight JuiceShuBrew, and RiverView Café for donating their
remaining plastic straws as they transition to compostable ones.

Many thanks to our friends at the Guardian Storage in Bloomfield for donating storage space for the Straw Forward sculpture.

More than 60% of Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurants have adopted an “Offer First or “By Request Only” policy or have switched to straws made of paper, stainless steel, or bamboo.

Straw Forward Press

More on Plastic

Plastic pollution facts, as well as what an individual can do to help – here.

Interesting read on new findings regarding the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – here.

Powerful infographics regarding plastic pollution and usage – here.

Plastic facts from Earth Day – here