Plastic straws are passe, here are promising new-age alternatives to it
Craig Graffius started EcoGlass Straws 12 years ago with three decades of glass-making experience and his vision for an alternative to the ubiquitous plastic straw. What he didn’t have was anyone clamouring for his product. Today, his tiny four-person shop in Hood River, Oregon, is gearing up to turn out 2,000 handcrafted glass straws an hour. That’s up from the current pace of 125 an hour, or 1,000 a day.
EcoGlass’s surging output underscores a wave of change sweeping through the supply chain as the straw emerges as a central symbol of the world’s plastic trash crisis. With consumers searching for greener options, companies from Starbucks Corp to McDonald’s Corp to MGM Resorts International are responding. “Everybody’s got to find a replacement,” said Graffius, who has seen orders more than triple in the past year after a long struggle to convince buyers his wares were more than just a novelty. “We didn’t anticipate this happening. We were going to really hit the market. But instead, it’s hitting us.”
Plastic straws are just one example of how companies are being forced to adapt to changing public attitudes about the environment. For some, abandoning traditional plastic raises costs, threatens sales and forces uncomfortable conversations with customers. Others see an opportunity for new business with the rise in demand for alternatives.
The furore dates to a viral 2015 video of marine biologists pulling a straw from deep inside the nose of a sea turtle. Then in 2017 the Strawless in Seattle campaign motivated cities to take action. The public outcry escalated to the point McDonald’s, Starbucks and MGM have vowed to phase out their reliance on plastic straws globally. American Airlines Group Inc said Tuesday it would replace plastic straws and stir sticks with more “eco-friendly” straw and bamboo options. Alaska Air Group Inc said in May it would phase out single-use plastic straws.
While straws account for just .03% of the 8 million metric tons of plastic that enters the ocean each year, according to a 2015 study, the disturbing images refocused the world’s attention on the problem. “The anti-single-use-plastic movement is much bigger than those who identify as environmentalists,” said Maisie Ganzler, brand chief for Bon Appetit Management Co, a food-service chain that on May 31 said it would stop using traditional plastic straws. “When people see the photographic evidence of the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans and in the bodies of birds, fish, turtles and whales, it’s stomach-turning no matter what your politics are,” Ganzler said.
In recent months, countries in Europe have begun announcing bans or limits. As of July 1, Seattle became the first major US city to outlaw plastic straws, following similar measures by smaller towns along the East and West Coasts. Even where laws haven’t changed, the public outcry is pressuring companies to respond or risk alienating customers. That pressure travels up and down the supply chain. Best Diamond Plastics co-founder and President Mark Tolliver has grown his straw-making business to more than 70 employees from the five he started with in 2008, in large part thanks to his first major customer: McDonald’s. Now his 73,000 square-foot plant in Chicago churns out plastic implements for customers including five big fast-food companies.