Barista Magazine

AUG-SEP 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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109 www.baristamagazine.com Silicone straws Food-grade silicone straws provide a more fl exible and forgiving reus- able straw option. There is no worry of chipping a tooth or breaking the straw. As with the other options, they can be used for hot and cold drinks. Unlike stainless steel, they do not transfer hot or cold. Silicone straws are dishwasher safe, though some users fi nd them harder to clean than the other options. Most people associate straws with cold beverages, but Koffi e Straws make a BPA-free silicone straw designed to fi t the hole on a portable coffee lid. Bamboo straws Bamboo straws are both reusable and biodegradable, though they have a shorter lifespan than the other reusable options. Provided they have not been treated, they can go straight into the compost when they are at the end of their life; they fray and splinter with time. The best bamboo straws are made from whole bamboo stalks, as opposed to processed or recompressed bamboo. They are better suited to cold drinks; some users report that bamboo leaves a woody taste in hot drinks. Bamboo straws are best cleaned by hand. They should be rinsed immediately after use, then soaked in a food-safe sanitizer before drying them as quickly as possible. Paper straws There are also single-use alternatives to conventional plastic straws. Paper straws are the most environmentally friendly of the various alter- natives in terms of their post-use lives. They decompose quickly under a variety of environmental conditions; Aardvark claims their straws break down in as few as 30 days. Not all paper straws are created equal, however. Only those made from 100-percent recycled paper have a small production footprint. Also, some manufacturers use harmful chemicals to prevent the straw from going soggy or the color from leaching into drinks. In some cases, paper straws are lined with the same food-safe fi lm that prevents other paper products like coffee cups from being recyclable. The jury is out on paper straws from a use perspective. Some believe they are an acceptable alternative to plastic. Others fi nd fault with their limited use life, as well as the texture and the taste. Bioplastic straws Offering both durability and fl exibility, bioplastic straws look and behave like conventional plastic drinking tubes (to the point that they are often disposed of inappropriately). Bioplastics are made from organic biomass, such as cornstarch or sugar cane, rather than petroleum-based poly- mers. Some bioplastic production has a smaller carbon footprint than plastic, though the cultivation of the renewable products from which they are made can be very energy-intensive. In a commercial compost- ing facility, which can achieve the high temperatures required for the decomposition of bioplastics, these straws can break down in less than three months. However, if bioplastic straws end up in landfi lls or are left on the beach, as they are wont to do, they behave no differently than conventional plastic straws. There are a number of other products being explored as alternatives to single-use plastic straws, including seaweed, grains, and even pasta, though none are as widely available as paper and bioplastic at present. The environmental costs of their production vary. Provided they haven't been treated, all have fairly short decomposition times. No straws Of course, one alternative to the plastic straw is no straw at all. Making straws available by request is one way shops are asking customers to consider whether they actually need a straw. Going without, if you are able, is perhaps the best environmental decision of all—"reduce" being the most important, if often overlooked, of the four Rs. We're also starting to see the redesign of cup lids so that straws aren't needed. Starbucks' Nitro Cold Brew lid, which looks a bit like a sippy cup, is an early example of a strawless lid, but others are taking it a step further. At the recent Global Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle, Ross Lil- lebo, business development manager and supplier relations with Beyond The Grind, a full-service coffeehouse distribution company in Anaheim, Calif., was presented with a prototype of a fully sealed universal lid made from a compostable, renewable resource. Ross wouldn't share the name of the company because the product is still in research and development, but he believes the lid, which will eliminate two extraneous items—drink stoppers and straws—is a game-changer. "This is a lid that works for both hot and cold cups, that is fully sealed, but also vented properly so you still get full aroma, and it is made from a recyclable material that doesn't have any odor to it, so it's not interfering with the aroma or the experience of having that drink," he says. "It's something the industry has been waiting for." With an ever-expanding array of alternatives, it's easier than ever to abandon plastic straws, though it represents an added expense for shop owners. Paper straws cost about three times that of conventional plastic straws, while compostable alternatives are about four times the price. In other words, those that are making the move to alternatives are spending more money on products that aren't generating revenue. If reuseable or eco-friendly straws are used in tandem with a straw-on-de- mand policy, the decision can be less cost-prohibitive. It's not all a matter of cost, though. Some shop owners aren't satisfi ed with the existing suite of straw alternatives for reasons of performance and experience. In my interviews for this piece, I heard this most frequently in relation to paper straws, which are simply not as durable as conventional plastic straws and can impart unwanted fl avors on their drinks, though every alternative has its drawbacks. Customers can also be a barrier. New Moon Café, which has loca- tions in Augusta, Ga., and Aiken, S.C., signed onto Operation Clean City's "The Last Straw" challenge for the month of April. Participating businesses could only offer compostable straws on request. While some customers were supportive, more common were patrons who had no desire to go without straws. In some cases, baristas faced hostility from consumers. New Moon's media and special projects manager Elizabeth Cornelson notes, "We've trained consumers to think they need a straw. But for most people, it's a convenience thing." Whether the goal is to wean consumers off straws or acclimate them to different products, education is an important part of this process. Ross Lillebo says, "One of the things we always talk to shop owners about is training your customers. If you don't offer something, explain why you don't. A lot of times, you fi nd people becoming not just all right with that, but the next day you'll see them repeating what you told them the day before, sharing what they've learned with your other custom- ers." Of course, change takes time. At Backlot in Chicago, posters distributed as part of #SheddtheStraw were important conversation starters on the ills of single-use plastics. Backlot cofounders and owners John Kim and Isaac Bloom estimate that as a result of the decision, they will prevent 24,000 plastic straws a year from entering the waste stream. The response, to date, has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Isaac. "The decision to remove plastic straws from our store was driven by our customers' personal commitment to sustainability and the environ- ment, and their desire to see local businesses follow suit," Isaac says. "We are building better practices together, and the result has been mutually benefi cial. It's a small step, with a big impact, and with so many options out there—reusable stainless, biodegradable paper, and compostable PLA, for example—it's really a no-brainer."

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