What Will Disrupt Paper Straws?May 06, 2019 - by Taylor Getler
For many customers of foodservice brands that have made the switch over to paper straws, the more ecofriendly alternative is an imperfect solution. Sure, they are biodegradable, take far less time to decompose (by hundreds of years, in fact), and are safer for wildlife. However, they are also less effective in their core function than plastic straws, which is to transfer a beverage from a container to a user’s mouth without changing the quality of the drink.
Paper straws have a tendency to break down during beverage consumption, becoming mushy and more difficult to use. This wet mush can even mix into the drink as the consumer is sipping, altering the taste and mouthfeel. Simply put, while they are significantly better for the environment than plastic straws, they almost never work quite as well.
Inevitably, as consumers demand innovation in ecofriendly packaging and disposable utensils, this temporary solution will evolve into something more elegant and functional. But as large, international companies like Starbucks and McDonald’s adopt paper straws, what can we expect the next stage of non-plastic straws to look like? There are a few possibilities that stand out as particularly promising contenders.
Original drinking straws from the 1800s were made of actual straw – hence the name. Harvest Straws is an example of a company working to revive this rustic tool, which is sturdier than paper straws while remaining environmentally sustainable.
Bamboo is a strong, biodegradable material, and is excellent for making resilient straws. However, products from this space are reusable, and developers are still working on how to produce them in a way that is appropriate for single-use occasions.
Forgoing Straws Altogether
Rather than reinventing the straw, designers might have better luck by looking at disposable cups. Product developers can examine the reasons why consumers use straws – ie.,for convenience on the road, or perhaps because they don’t want ice sliding into their teeth while they drink – and redesign the disposable cup in a way that is both sustainable and ecofriendly, while also meeting the needs of typical straw users.
While it is fantastic that companies are starting to take responsibility for their contribution to wasteful plastic straw production, paper straws as we know them today are not fulfilling the potential of the alternative straw category. We are sure to see changes and innovation in this space over the next few months and years, and it will be exciting to see the effect that this has on both the foodservice industry and the environment at large.