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Analysis of Plastic Straw Alternatives from Julian de Féral

Julian de Féral is an international drinks consultant, occasional bartender, and writer. He was previously the drinks director for the London-based Gorgeous Group
He researched alternatives to straws in 2018. This post is strung together from various reports he forwarded to CocktailGreen. I have bolded a couple of sentences for emphasis. 
Having worked for Milk & Honey London in the early to mid '00s who in the UK were the early adopters of straw alternatives, it was always something that I followed. However early January '18 things really stepped up as a major (non-industry) publication in the UK published a six page report on plastic straws which the UK government quickly responded to (perhaps a bit hastily) by saying they would have a nationwide ban of plastic straws in a matter of months. Of course this wasn't the case as there are untold implications, but it did mean the commercial director of the international hospitality company bluntly hit the panic button and tasked me with coming up with alternatives. I already knew it wasn't quite as clear cut as that, so I started collating information and sending over 'strawternative' reports, which also factored in costs and procurement which, lets face it, were going to be the first thing that our more corporately-minded clients would be looking at.
Anyway, things have of course changed a lot in the past two years, however to answer this deceptively, here are a chain of reports I sent out that might be of interest, with perhaps some things in there that might be of use to your cause:
17th January, 2018:
As this is a hot topic that has become even hotter in the past couple of days, here is a quick summary of alternatives I have looked at before over the past few years, so we know where we stand:
…Lucy has spoken to Parsley In Time, attached are their suggestions. The plastic ones are not exactly glam (I enjoy the fact that one comes individually wrapped in paper…!), and not everybody likes paper straws as they tend to be anything in between 10 to 20  times more expensive…
  • Paper. A bit more expensive. Can be nice as a statement if looking for quirky patterns but not very subtle all-rounders. Get soggy, affects flavour. Have to ensure it is a biodegradable one if actually being sustainability. Packaging is usually excessive, which defeats the point.
  • Steel/metal. Obviously very expensive, tend to get stolen. Cocktail Kingdom etc charge ridiculous prices. Eg: Buying in bulk from Ali Baba/China etc is more efficient for budget but needs a long lead time and is not going to be accredited for most hotel procurement. Some people hate the feeling of metal in their mouth, and some don’t trust the way they are cleaned/sanitised properly. Can potentially be made by someone who is handy with metal, of course accreditation will be another challenge.
  • Biogradable plastic straws. Cool eh? Cons: ATM hard to find clear ones. Keep in mind although they degrade quicker than plastic they still take 15-20 years to degrade.
  • Corn straws, apparently now supplied by Klaremont. Looks rustic, affects flavour.
  • Hay. Even more expensive (about £15 a box of 250), can be hard to suck through, has a shelf life, affects flavour.
  • Bamboo. Even more expensive. Hard to source, unless you’re in Asia. Championed by some as growing bamboo is better for the environment than growing trees (less water, less space, quicker growing etc) however I cannot help but question the air miles/environmental impact - as far as I am aware nobody is commercially growing bamboo in Europe for straws.
  • Pasta. I’ve found bucatini to be the best, although not everybody likes the idea or thickness. Affects flavour of course.
Some sites that do the above: Compostable (although with unfortunate green stripe).
Alternatives to alternatives: 
  • Charging a surcharge for the use of a straw (ie factoring the price into any drink with a straw or charging people to buy their metal/bamboo/whatever straw), as the likes of Super Lyan have done.
  • Just don’t use straws, unless absolutely necessary (ie only with the odd crushed ice drink). For me this is the least expensive and the most practical. Eg. Sean and I have created a menu of 10 drinks for Fitz, only one uses a straw. No other drinks would use them. Instead we can focus on those other bits to form the ‘sustainable’ story…. Never use coasters. No stirrers (ensure drinks are well mixed before sending out). Print menus/everything on recycled paper. Email receipts rather than print them out. Use eco friendly cleaning chemicals for your glass (and metal straw) washer. Don’t sell bottled water (massive impact on revenue but you know, sustainable). Never buy in block ice. Make sure you invest in the most ecological and energy efficient fridges freezers etc. Minimise fresh fruit. Invest in an Eco Gro (as we did with G&V). Etc etc. There are many ways to cut down paper and plastic use/being more sustainable, and these are what I think we should spend energy considering.
  • Since Juniper was born I have been seriously considering sippy cups as an alternative. They work with cocktails, trust me, I’ve tried.
  • Julep strainers were created to be used to sip through crushed ice well before straws were popularised. Of course not all bars will be keen on sending out a £15 bit of kit with every crushed ice drink.
Anyway, food for thought.
18th January, 2018:
Hi all, some follow up info…. 

More on the: ‘Adult Sippy Cup’ if a glass manufacturer would be interested in making a basic Collins glass with a glass straw as part of the glass. Obviously cleaning is going to be a problem that would need addressing pretty early on, but it is a plausibility, as would glass with an inbuilt Julep (possibly held in place with a spring mechanism?). Pricing would be vastly expensive on these products, but if we could get a major player onboard of course costs could drop?

Further note: All straws seemed to be aimed at Collins sized glass or larger. Most of the crushed ice cocktails are usually more of a Julep or shorter size, which means that you now have to increase wastage by cutting straws that are to large down to size.


Finishing up some interesting thoughts from November 2018...

Lyndon Higginson, owner operator of multiple award-winning bars in Manchester:

"Dear bar friends

I’ve been keeping quiet about this whole straw/no straw debate for a while now as I’ve honestly thought it is kind of ridiculous!

The problem isn’t with the straw. It’s with the person who throws the straw away!

Plastic can be recycled over and over again.

Biodegradable straws aren’t the answer as they are actually causing more harm than good. If you are trying to recycle it affects the other plastics that are being recycled.

This is a quote from the British Plastic Federation

“Degradability is another area of growing importance in waste-management terms. Degradable plastics including biodegradable plastics are commercially available and are used in the packaging for example of fruits and vegetables. Solutions to the litter problem will not be found in the increased use of one material such as degradable plastics, over another. The problem is caused by the behaviour of people and not plastics products.

The impact of degradable materials on the recycling of conventional plastics is a concern for recyclers. Even a perceived risk of recycled material containing biodegradable /degradable material can prevent its use especially in long term applications.”

There are so many ways of having your cake and eating it with this straw situation.

You can give a customer a straw, they can use it once and then rather than throwing it away, it gets recycled and used over and over again.

I strongly believe we should stop making new plastic and use what plastic we have on this planet. There’s more than enough to go around if everyone stops throwing it in the bin!

By buying biodegradable straws you are heading straight to the bottom of the list of ways to re-use plastic.

The hierarchy should be as follows

• Prevention - Reduce manufacturing 
• Preparing for reuse - Repair, cleaning, refurbish 
• Recycling
• Other recovery - Energy recovery
• Disposal - Landfill

I say we keep the humble straw and use it where necessary in drinks that contain crushed ice or in frozen drinks. Then make sure we recycle each and every one that’s used.”