The idea we are talking about is the paper straw, something that has been around for nearly a century and a half, and is coming back into favor, due in part to environmental concerns and things like the heart-wrenching video of a plastic straw being removed from a sea turtle’s nostril.
As someone who grew up knowing nothing besides the plastic straw, many of us surprised to learn that paper straws a) existed, and b) didn’t break down in a beverage. A bit of research later, and we were quite happy to learn that yes in fact, paper straws have been around since 1888, and that they can handle the needs of the average beverage drinker.
Do you know where the term straw comes from? If you said, “Of course! People used rye straws throughout the 1800s to drink their beverages,” you’d be right, however, let me tell you more about this.
The first modern iteration of the drinking straw (Sumerians used straws for beer long before then), was literally straw. However, the “natural” straws didn’t hold up to the needs of the beverage connoisseur. This all changed in the mid-1880s, when a Washington DC resident by the name of Martin Stone had gotten sick of the grassy taste and gritty residue left by the rye straw in his mint julep, and decided to tackle the problem.
Stone wrapped strips of paper around a pencil, removed said pencil, and glued the strips together, resulting in a much sturdier drinking utensil. He then made improvements to this “modern straw,” using manila paper and paraffin to improve durability, then patenting his design in 1888.
These straws spent the next eighty-or-so years as the de facto option for enjoying beverages, before plastic straws came into play in the 1960s—offering an even more durable drinking experience and slowly killing the paper straw business by promising affordable mass-produced products that could handle the needs of the growing fast-food industry.
Unfortunately, plastic straws turned out to be too durable, resulting in the current problem that exists today. According to the National Park Service, Americans use 500 million straws per day. Plastic straws aren’t biodegradable, meaning that the first straw you ever used is still floating around somewhere. This has led to an increasing presence of anti-straw movements like No Straw Please, The Last Plastic Straw, Strawless Ocean, Straw Wars, Be Straw Free, Lonely Whale, and likely dozens more, all of whom are more qualified than we are to talk about the environmental impact of plastic straws.
In recent years, this anti-straw movement has intensified, and the paper straw is becoming popular again. This resurgence appears to be led by Aardvark Straws, a subsidiary of Precision Products Group (PPG), who has done some interesting things with paper straws, and who has put a modern twist on the original paper straw—making it more durable while still maintaining the environmental sustainability of paper straws.
When done correctly, “going green” can be a boon for business. While you can’t just drop a handful of paper straws in a cup and call yourself a green, you can explain that the move to implement paper straws over plastic is just one step in “reducing your carbon footprint,” or “going all-natural.” In fact, many of the restaurants haven’t made the move to use paper straws.
This said, the straw is still a necessary implement for some (people with disabilities), and a useful tool for others (people with facial hair), and shouldn’t be completely removed from the equation. The paper straw offers the best of both worlds—allowing these people to still use a straw while reinforcing your commitment to the environment.
With customers more focused on their environmental footprint than ever, many are looking for brands that can resonate these values. This said, paper straws are allowing hospitality brands to still offer the drinking implements to customers without making a large environmental impact. For many people, straws are still useful if not vital, and this provides a new way to not only position yourself as a green brand.