Mirroring a global environmental movement, local businesses in Jamaica Plain have been offering metal straws in lieu of plastic straws in order to reduce plastic waste.
Brassica Kitchen and Cafe started using metal straws in July this year to provide an environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic.
“As a cafe we see a lot of plastic being wasted and thrown away and wanted to give our guests the opportunity to help with waste,” said Noah Todorrof, general manager and beverage director of Brassica.
Todoroff said that since many customers get their coffees and teas to go, they cannot replace plastic altogether, so they offer metal straws for purchase at $1 each.
“We would love to see the day that we no longer have to provide plastic straws, however, being such an ‘on-the-go’ culture, we will continue to use plastic, but hope to see a significant decline in use in the near future,” Todoroff said.
The response has been positive from customers.
“Guests are extremely receptive to the metal straws and many regulars continue to bring their straws with them daily to reduce waste,” Todoroff said. “Many others who do not have the metal straw have begun to skip the plastic straw to do their part as well.”
This year, Seattle became the largest U.S. city to ban plastic straws and utensils in food service. Starbucks has announced plans to eliminate single-use plastic straws by 2020. After a request from a girl scout, Alaskan Airlines became the first airline to replace plastic stirrers and citrus picks with biodegradable alternatives.
According to ecocycle.org, Americans use 500 million plastic straws a day, or 1.6 straws per person per day. It’s been estimated that 71 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of turtles have been found with plastics in their stomachs, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. Environmental groups like For A Strawless Ocean have been focusing on eliminating plastic straws in particular because straws are among the top 10 items found during beach clean-ups and cause a lot of harm to seabirds, turtles, and other marine creatures.
Environmental groups have been advocating to reduce single-use plastic waste, such as The Last Plastic Straw. The organization invites all bars and restaurants to provide straws only by request, provide reusable or compostable straws, or get rid of straws completely. Learn more about the organization at thelastplasticstraw.org.
Kay Hutchinson, Jamaica Plain resident, is a metal straw enthusiast who started using stainless steel straws for drinking homemade smoothies and now prefers them to plastic straws.
“They don’t bend or tear, you can wash them, and I never worry about having straws in the house when I need one,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson also prefers to patronize businesses that use the metal straws for convenience and the environment.
“I like having a straw in my water glass when I go out to eat, and of course in my iced coffee, and if I had the option for a stainless steel/reusable one, I’d take it,” Hutchinson said. “In fact, I own two cups with reusable straws I got at Starbucks for iced coffee, and I take them to other local businesses, like Caffe Nero, and it’s nice to know they help me use my own reusable straws.”
While Hutchinson says she would like to see disposable plastic cups go away, she thinks that it’s difficult to find a workable business model until everyone starts carrying their own cups around.
“I like how larger chains like Target or Starbucks give you a discount for using your own bag or bringing your own cup, and I’d love to see local businesses start doing that too; it’s a 5 or 10 cent discount usually, but every bit helps,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson also said she would love to see an initiative started to cut down on plastic cup waste, similar to the bottle bill.
The bottle bill, or the Beverage Container Recovery Law, was implemented in Massachusetts in 1983 as a way of encouraging residents to return beer, malt, soda, and mineral water bottles in order to redeem a five-cent deposit. The amount of bottle returns has been decreasing. The peak year of Massachusetts bottle deposit returns was 2010 when the return rate was 70.8 percent. In 2017, 56.8 percent of bottles were returned. The deposit money that is not redeemed becomes property of the state general fund.
“Something like a five cent deposit on disposable plastic cups [would] really incentivize people to either use reusable cups or pick up and return plastic ones,” Hutchinson said.
Samuel Partyka, another Jamaica Plain resident, supports reusable stainless steel straws, but with a grain of salt.
“I think reusable stainless steel straws may be difficult to clean,” Partyka said. When asked if he would be more likely to support a business that uses or provides these straws, he said no.
“I certainly don’t want to be sharing my metal straw” Partyka said. “And if I am conscientiously trying to reduce my plastic waste, I will get my own straw. I don’t need a business to hold my hand for this.”
Partyka said that based on his research, he believes the United States are doing comparatively well for our plastic use and that if there is a global crisis for ocean life because of ocean waste, the United States would only be partially responsible.
“That being said, any waste is less desirable than no waste,” Partyka said. “I think that as the world becomes more densely populated, it is our responsibility to take care of it…and that the most effective way most people can take care of the world is to pay attention to the waste they themselves generate, and reduce it. Changing yourself is easier than changing the world, after all.”
Ula Cafe is another local business that has implemented the use of metal straws; the business received its first shipment of metal straws on June 27.
“I had seen so much talk online about the current rise of use of reusable straws and utensils, and the all around surge in the importance of sustainable ‘disposables,’” Rich Gaccione, general manager of Ula Cafe said. “I also had been listening to a podcast that had some statistics of the negative impact of disposables that have been harming our planet and ecosystems. The information was staggering, and if you don’t hear about it or don’t see it first hand, it’s easy to not realize the actual negative impact that disposables and trash can have. From there I decided to do some research and find out where and how to get some of these stainless reusable straws.”
Ula has not gotten rid of plastic straws, but Gaccione says that the use of plastic has immediately dropped. The cafe sells straws for $2 and has a discount program where if a customer brings and shows a metal straw, they get 50 cents off their drink purchase. Ula also offers a discount if customers bring their own container for their beverages.
Gaccione says the customer and community support has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
“Our community has been very thankful for Ula’s ability to try and offer small things to help decrease waste,” Gaccione said. “The community has shown great support in the fact that in the first two weeks we sold 250 straws alone! We had a brief waiting period of getting them restocked but once again they are selling very well.”
Ula still offers plastic straws, but Gaccione says that slowly phasing them out over the next year isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
“We have to consider all avenues in which some people may need plastic straws to consume beverages or foods, but we are using this time to educate customers in the value and importance in metal straws.”
There has been some backlash from people with disabilities nationwide about the plastic straw ban. For some, plastic straws are the only feasible option to consume liquids.