Barista Magazine

AUG-SEP 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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ON APRIL 13, CHICAGO'S BACKLOT Coffee announced to patrons they would no longer be stocking plastic straws at their shops in Old Ir- ving Park and Evanston. For Backlot customers choosing to dine in, cold drinks would be served in glassware with stainless-steel straws, while those taking beverages to go would have a choice of paper or commer- cially compostable straws. Backlot's decision to abandon plastic drinking tubes was inspired by #SheddtheStraw, an initiative of nearby Shedd Aquarium to "protect our waters and the animals that call them home" by "saying no to single-use plastic straws." Supporters also include the Chicago White Sox. Backlot is one of a growing community of coffee shops and cafés across the country and around the world turning their backs on plastic straws, a group that includes both small, independent cafés like Red Buffalo Coffee in Silverthorne, Colo., and larger retailers like Joe Coffee Company, a collection of 18 coffee shops scattered across New York City and Philadelphia. Not all are making the move by choice. Some, like cafés in Culver City, are reacting to municipal ordinances limiting single-use plastics including straws, while others, aware of the mounting popularity of plastic bans, are getting ahead of the curve. Here, we'll take a closer look at the motivations behind the move away from plastic straws, as well as some of the alternatives currently available on the market. But fi rst, the backstory. The straw is one of the oldest of human eating utensils. Drinking tubes made from silver, gold, and lapis lazuli have been recovered from Sumerian tombs. These early straws were used to bypass the debris of fermentation that fl oated on top of beer. Marvin C. Stone is credited with inventing the modern straw. He dis- liked how straws made of rye stalk and wheat shaft left a gritty residue in, and altered the fl avor of, his beloved mint julep. Marvin submitted a patent for a manila paper straw covered with paraffi n, a petro- leum-based wax, in 1888. Within the year, his Lafayette, La., factory was reportedly producing 2 million straws a day. Straws became increasingly common in the early 20th century, in part for public health reasons; straws offered a way to avoid contact with po- tentially contaminated glassware. By 1924, 4 billion straws a year were being manufactured in the United States. Their popularity only grew in the 1950s with the rise of fast food and take-out culture. Plastic straws began to replace paper drinking tubes in the 1960s. Plastic was valued for its durability; even with a coating, paper straws, like their organic predecessors, eventually disintegrated into drinks. Clear plastic straws also had a novelty appeal, allowing users to watch their beverage travel from glass to mouth. Early plastic straws were made from polystyrene. Today, plastic straws are typically made from food-grade plastics like polypropylene or polyethylene. All are petro- leum or natural gas byproducts. In the last decade, the plastic straw has come under fi re from envi- ronmental organizations around the world. It is commonly reported that Americans use 500 million straws a year (though there are questions about the accuracy of this number). Most plastic straws are used only for a few minutes and then discarded. Straws are almost never recycled, so they live on both in and beyond landfi lls, outlasting their use and user many times over. This is to say nothing of the environmental cost of their production. Much of the public focus has been on the consequences of plastic waste for aquatic ecosystems; a video of a straw being removed from the nose of a sea turtle went viral in 2015, galvanizing the anti-straw move- ment. What has received less attention and what is less well understood is how our passion for plastic is affecting terrestrial ecosystems. The straw, to borrow from Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center in Berkeley, Calif., is "just the tip of the wasteberg." Straws represent about 0.02 percent of the plastic waste that ends up in the ocean each year. So why have they garnered such attention? Certain- ly the video of the sea turtle played a role, but equally important is the belief that straws are an unnecessary convenience. And for many people they are—but not for everyone. Straws, but especially bendable straws, are assistive devices for peo- ple with a variety of disabilities and health conditions, including Down syndrome, dementia, and neuromuscular disorders. Straw bans that don't make allowances for people with disabilities are discriminatory. They can be particularly harmful for people with invisible disabilities. If your shop is considering a straw-on-demand policy, it's important that staff be aware that, if requested, appropriate straws (see below) should be provided to patrons without question. Inspired by snappy campaigns like #TheLastStraw and #StopSucking and a growing awareness of the realities and consequences of plastic waste, many coffee shops and cafés are taking steps to eliminate plastic straws. One of the reasons the anti-straw movement has gained so much traction is that there is a growing number of alternatives to conventional plastic. These include both reusable and single-use options. Reusable straws are suitable for businesses with dine-in options. They are commonly made from metal, glass, silicone, and bamboo, or a combination thereof. Like plastic straws, reusable straws come in different lengths, diameters, and styles, so you'll have to consider the height of the drinking vessel, as well as the type of beverage being consumed. Because metal, glass, and bamboo options are inflexible, they can be difficult for people with disabilities to use, so if you choose to stock these, it's important to have other types of straws on hand. Paper isn't ideal either for those who need straws because of its short use life. Metal straws The most durable of the reusable straw options are made with metal. Most are stainless steel, though some are made with titanium. They are designed to withstand years of use, while also being stain-free, rustproof, and scratchproof. Stainless-steel straws are dishwash- er-safe. They can also be cleaned using a brush that resembles a pipe cleaner. Stainless straws are better suited to cold beverages because they retain the temperature of the liquid. Some users fi nd they impart a metallic taste to drinks, but James Fairbrass, manager of Proud Mary Coffee in Portland, Ore., hasn't found that to be an issue. The renowned roaster and brunch spot—originally founded in Melbourne, Australia, and now operating a popular second brand of the concept in Portland—swapped stainless for plastic in late 2017. "It took some getting used to— having reusable steel straws added one more step to our daily cleaning routine," he says. The process consists of soaking all straws in Puro Caff at the end of the day, giving each a scrub with the pipe cleaner, and then rinsing. "But really, it's so simple and it takes hardly any time at all." There is also the matter of environmental impact. The manufacturing process for stainless-steel products is energy-intensive and toxic. Look for straws that contain recycled steel to reduce your impact. Glass straws Where stainless-steel straws tend to value function over aesthetics, glass straws often combine the two. They come in different colors and designs. Most glass straws are made with borosilicate (the same product used in Pyrex), which makes them shatter- and break-resistant. Glass straws are suitable for both hot and cold drinks. They are also dishwash- er-safe and typically accompanied by a cleaning brush. By weight, the production of glass straws has lower environmental costs than steel. Though some users fi nd them too fragile for their liking, glass straws offer a very clean drinking experience; users also appreciate being able to visually assess the cleanliness of the straw. 108 barista magazine

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