When the options for compostable packaging and straws are comparable to plastic’s durability and prices, restaurants can easily go green.
The act of popping a straw into a drink is being challenged by opponents who say its short-term life of 30 minutes isn’t enough to justify a lifetime in the landfill. Many consumers and restaurateurs are skeptical, though, of how much change doing away with plastic straws would have on the environment.
The truth is in the numbers. How many plastic straws would you guess are used daily in the United States? Maybe 50 million…. 150 million…. 250 million….
The answer is a staggering 390 million per day, according to a market research analysis quoted by the New York Times. About half of all straws are consumed privately, like straws accompanying juice boxes, and the rest are distributed by restaurants, bars, coffee shops, food trucks, and other dining establishments.
Several states, the majority having coastal lines, have been spurred on by scientific evidence that straws—a product about as innocent and innocuous as it gets—are causing chaos to the oceans. (It’s no secret that the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean is already the size of Texas.)
Starbucks is the first foodservice chain to publicly announce a plastic straw “purge.” The coffee shop giant claims that roughly 1 billion of those iconic green straws are distributed each year and promises to stop doling them out by 2020. In their place, a straw-less coffee lid will be used or they will find an eco-friendly straw alternative.
Other companies banning plastic straws are Marriott and Hyatt Hotels, and American Airlines. Local and state governments are starting to ban their use as well. Seattle is the largest US city to prohibit selling them, and Malibu and Carmel in California have “softer” bans in place. Some opponents to the bans have incorrectly complained that opposing the plastic straw ban is punishable with jail time. It’s not, although in Seattle, restaurants face a $250 fine.
Alternatives to Plastic Straws
In place of plastic straws, restaurants, bars, and party shops have been experimenting with paper straws. Often made from recyclable paper, these straws are trendy and attractive alternatives. The single con being that they get a bit flimsy after 20 minutes. Some people also think they give a drink a “papery” taste.
Since it’s not the most ideal choice, foodservice operators are looking into alternatives to the paper alternative. Two of our favorite ideas are bamboo straws and bucatini pasta. The first are sturdy and easy to wash, while the second is charmingly inventive.
Other bars have tried using stainless steel straws, but it’s an unpleasant truth that when presented with a novelty like metal straws, some customers are inclined to steal one or two as mementos. If trying stainless steel straws, we recommend posting a message in all your cocktail menus that says something like this, “In an effort to adopt more sustainable business practices at our bar, we are no longer serving plastic straws. To give you the most enjoyable experience, we are using stainless steel straws instead. If you are interested in owning one, please ask our staff and we would be happy to tell you where to buy them for your home or as a gift.”
Without asking customers to specifically not steal, you avoid the awkwardness of accusing someone for making a poor choice and guide them towards the positive message of sustainability. Customers will respect the choice and actively support it.
Styrofoam is On the Outs
Because straws are so easy to switch out, they were the first product to be scrutinized. The real problem though is packaging, specifically, Styrofoam packaging. Compostable packaging is becoming easier at affordable price points, leading restaurants to switch out the non-biodegradable packaging for a new option.
The technology behind compostable packaging is interesting. Sugar resin is used for plastic-like materials, making it possible to keep your clear packaging style. The durability of Styrofoam is replicated with recycled paper or wheat-based compostable packaging like this.
Throughout the coming months and years, we anticipate more eco-friendly solutions for widely used foodservice items, and for sustainability in restaurants to become more commonplace.
See how a restaurant POS system can help you manage food waste.