Should Your Business Join the No Straw Movement?

plastic straw alternatives for restaurants

Sometimes, small changes can have a big impact. That’s the notion behind an environmental movement that aims to eliminate single-use plastic drinking straws as a way to help reduce the amount of plastic that pollutes the planet.

The no straw movement has been around for some time. But it began to take off in 2015, when a video of a sea turtle with plastic straw stuck in its nose went viral and spurred animal and nature lovers to call for plastic straw alternatives. The movement’s proponents argue eliminating plastic straws is an easy and effortless way many can help reduce the negative impact plastics have when misused or not recycled. They believe most people use plastic straws not out of necessity, but because straws just seem to come naturally with drinks at restaurants, bars or coffee shops.

Americans use and throw away some 500 million plastic straws every day, according to environmental organization The Plastic Pollution Coalition. That equates to 175 billion plastic straws dumped annually into landfills or littered onto streets and into waterways and oceans. However, the New York Times notes in a fact-check article, the figure is more likely between 170 million and 390 million plastic straws per day, or 63 billion or 142 billion per year. Straws make up 0.025 percent of the 8 million tons of plastic that ends up in the oceans every year, National Geographic reported.

Still, single-use plastic straws do have a negative impact on the environment because they often go unrecycled. They are used for a few minutes, then thrown away to become a part of a growing global plastic pollution problem. Switching from plastic to other alternatives is a step in the right direction.

Environmentalist organizations that support the no straw movement, sometimes referred to as the anti-straw movement, recommend a variety of plastic straw alternatives for restaurants and hospitality companies.

  • Paper – The original material used for the first mass-produced American drinking straws. Paper is, of course, recyclable.
  • Bamboo – One of the most versatile, renewable and useful grasses on the planet, bamboo is a natural material that biodegrades naturally.
  • Glass – Recyclable, easy to clean and has no impact on a liquid’s flavor. However, it must be handled carefully because it can shatter with rough treatment.
  • Metal – Recyclable and made to last a long time. It is also easy to clean. Some metals can react with certain liquids, particularly acidic ones, changing the flavor in an unappealing way.
  • Hollow food products – Uncooked Bucatini pasta or Twizzlers candy offer better alternatives to plastic straws. Pasta, made from flour and water, is a natural product, and Twizzlers can be eaten after use.
  • Silicon – Food-grade BPA-free silicone is soft and ideal for high-temperature liquids.
  • Polyactic acid – A plant-based, compostable bioplastic made from cornstarch instead of petroleum-based plastic.

Most restaurant or hospitality businesses want to be environmental stewards. For that reason, a wide range of biodegradable and compostable straw options is available for purchase today. But ditching plastic straws in favor of environmentally friendly alternatives does come at a price.

For example, the average plastic drinking straw costs about half a cent, while paper straws cost 2.5 cents, according to CNBC. While the cost difference per unit is negligible, when buying in large quantities, the costs may add up. Costs can also fluctuate based on discounts for bulk orders or long-time/favored customer discounts.

The Last Plastic Straw is an environmental organization that seeks to eliminate single-use plastic pollution. Organization founder Jackie Nunez argues cost is a non-issue.

“If businesses simply write on their menus ‘Straws served upon request,’ they will find 50 to 90 percent of their patrons will not ask for a straw,” Nunez said. “If you think about how many people actually have and use drinking straws at home, you start to get the picture of what the real ‘need’ is for a drinking straw.”

She noted her organization isn’t against drinking straws. It is against plastics for single-use, of which the plastic straw is a big offender.

“If a business served straws upon request for those who need them, it would be cost savings, not only for the business, but for the communities they do business in,” she said. “Consider the savings in waste hauling, landfill, plastic in the environment, clean up and the overall pollution that results in every stage of a plastic straws existence from manufacture, shipping, health toxicity and waste.”

The no straw movement continues to grow, despite any cost concerns. Major restaurant, travel and food service companies have joined the cause, including Starbucks, Delta Air Lines and Aramark. Some cities have enacted laws to either ban or restrict plastic straw usage, including Seattle, Washington, D.C., New York, and Los Angeles. Some states have also taken up the cause, including California and Hawaii.

As concerns about climate change and environmental impact remain in the headlines, movements like the no straw movement will continue to gain corporate and consumer acolytes. While banning or restricting the use of plastic straws may not have a huge impact on your small business or its bottom line, it does serve to educate the masses about problems with plastics and open hearts and minds to the possibility of doing more to battle pollution.

EMPLOYERS is committed to helping small businesses, including restaurants, bars and hoteliers, operate safer, more efficient workplaces. Contact EMPLOYERS® today to learn more about our cost-effective workers’ compensation insurance. 

The information provided is intended to provide a general overview.  This information is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such.  EMPLOYERS® makes no warranties for the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of the information provided, and will not be responsible for any actions taken based on the information contained herein. If you have legal questions or need legal advice, please consult an attorney.

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