Edited by EcoThailand from: Trash Tiki - Alternatives to Plastic Straws
PLA (also referred to as cornstarch on some packaging)
Short for 'Polylactide' this made from a renewable resource, using plants like corns, beets, cassava to capture Co2 and convert into complex sugar chains. They lactic ferment it then cook it into a plastic like material.
Watch out for: There is next to no information on the production side of things. These guys may have a better post-use life span but the carbon footprint that goes into there production is yet to be measured.
Landfill Lifetime: Composting takes between 50 days and 12 months which is pretty rad. Landfill decomposition estimates sit at 3 - 5 years.
This one is pretty simple, it's a hard, hollow, flavourless pasta that you can drink through. If you're not quite aware how pasta is made, google.
Watch Out For: Monoculture grain farming is horrible for the earth, and carries a considerable carbon footprint. You def want to find something organic, and as locally made as possible, if that does exist?
Landfill Lifetime. It's pasta. 6 months at a push. Def less if you're composting!
Straws Made From Straw
Certain strains of wheat are now being grown specifically to replace the plastic straw which is pretty cool and obvs has mega marketing potential. Sadly we've not had one yet that was even close to decent. All of them went soggy very quickly or were so rigid they snapped length ways and then wouldn't work. Also one company actually sent us a sample of 2 straw straws, wrapped in 3 pieces of single use plastic.
Watch Out For: All the above, and again, wheat industry being bad for the land.
Landfill Lifetime: As this is an unprocessed plant based material it's gonna be rapid, just keep your eyes out it hasn't been treated with anything nasty to give it greater shelf life.
By far being touted as the best alternative to plastic straws, mostly because of the similar price point, paper straws are also proving to be quite divisive. Some people hate them in drinks. And we get it, a lot of them go soggy VERY quickly.
BIG Watch Out For: The carbon footprint of paper manufacturing is the worst. Like actually worse for the environment than plastic in some parts of the world. The post-use lifespan of paper can be much better, but in terms of production, single use paper straws are only better when made from 100% recycled paper.
On top of that, a lot of straws are being treated with the same food safe plastic film all disposable coffee cups, which means they're then non-recyclable and add about 100 years to their landfill lifetime. ICYMI, disposable coffee cups are horrible. Please please please stop using them.
Finally colour dyes used to make patterns on the straws can be made from non bio-inks meaning they can't be recycled as easily or composted. Basically, not all paper straws are equal, ots to consider and be wary of.
Landfill Lifetime: Normal paper is 2.5 months but with every treatment and extra process to help give paper straws more shelf life, that increases. Paper straws are definitely a good option, but please do not think they're the perfect solution
Like putting sign up on your front door that says "we making bank", metal straws have become something of a power status in western world bars.
Watch Out For: Metal production is not in anyway good for the environment, duh. Something we highlighted last October in a talk at Global Drinks Forum is that this is something any brands making copper POS should also be really thinking twice about as that has even less purpose then a straw.
Also if you happen to find buying 5000 units from somewhere in remote China is cheap as chips, it would be worth considering the working conditions that manufacturing plant may offer its staff. Grim to consider but just trying to give it to you as straight up as we can.
Landfill Lifetime: A very very very long time. Thankfully all precious metals are in constant demand and recycling is a true beneficial reality (as opposed to most other recycling offered).
Multi use, easily cut to your desired length so they look perfect for your venues glassware and you can laser print onto them for extra branding. They're not cheap in most parts of the world, but thats changing rapidly and we are currently trying to find a supplier in most countries to help bars make the switch. Hit up Panda Packaging if you really want to get them in though, as they ship anywhere in the world, direct from Thailand.
Watch Out For: Hygiene needs to be maintained. Soak in a food safe sanitiser after use, then dry rapidly (low heat oven, microwave, dehydrator, etc). During service this is best done in bulk. Also while carbon neutral to grow, don't forget the footprint shipping it around the world may create.
Landfill Lifetime: There is a lot of conflicting information out there about the time it takes bamboo to compost or decompose (there is an important difference there). We've seen figures saying 180 days and other claiming close to half a century due to it being so fibrous. If anyone has any more information on this please reach out. One thing is for sure, an all natural product is better for the land once decomposed, no matter how long that takes.
More alternative are coming out as we continue to strive towards the end of single use plastics. Sugar straws have been kicking around for a while but all are still too sweet. There is a company doing edible straws and cups called Lolistraw that we have yet to try but look like a great idea. If there is anything we've missed and should have included please reach out :)
Our Last Word
As alternatives become first choices everyone looks to find one material that would be the one stop shop solution to all problems, that carries it's own inherent risks of creating monocultures and over farming to meet demands. So instead here is our suggested 4 point plan to ridding your venue and the larger world of plastic straws using a mixture of materials. We've seen many elements of the below already being done in a raft of companies from Quixotic in Paris to Soho House globally and everywhere in between.
Make straws available only on request, you'll be amazed how many people actually don't want one anyway. Plus that request is extra point of engagement to offer killer service and hospitality. Also saves you cash money to then spend on better materials for your straw to be made out of.
Have you bar staff taste testing with metal straws. Bamboo don't give the best seal for straw test, and metal are much easier to reuse during service.
Have Bamboo (or PLA or Paper) as your straw of choice should it be requested.
If you have bamboo straws, maybe offer to guests as something they can purchase and take with them so when out and about running around plastic straws don't creep back into their waste stream.