The Consequence of the Straw Strike

On Monday, Starbucks announced it would eliminate the use of plastic straws in its stores by the end of 2020—replacing them with single-use plastic lids instead. The trend is now reaching the Midwest as some local KC restaurants are also bucking the use of plastic straws and finding alternatives. A Wichita-based coffee company took it a step further by pushing people to drop plastic bottles altogether and instead look at canning their beverages, including water.

The genesis of this movement came about when a sea turtle was shown on video in 2015 having a straw being pulled out of its nostril. Clearly, that’s a compelling reason for many to take a second look at the use of straws. It also spawned a nationwide viral movement to end the use of plastic straws in breakrooms and offices. But as with many movements like this, there are always consequences.

By eliminating, or lessening, our use of the plastic straws, perhaps we save the lives of wild animals and prevent damage to our ecosystem. What you have to be prepared for, is to pay up.

Regal Distribution is a foodservice and janitorial-supplies distributor based in Lenexa. We spoke with Vice President Alex Kopulos about the effect the decision by Starbucks and other companies will have on their bottom line. He told us: Be prepared to pay. “Although the straw may seem like a very small thing to eliminate there is an upcharge and do not be surprised if you see a price increase on your drink or not being offered a straw at all,” he said.

Kopulos estimates that paper straws will cost about 4-5 times as much as the regular polypropylene straw that’s commonly used today. “Another alternative that Starbucks and other national retailers will be using is a PLA (Polyloctide) straw which are made from corn,” he said.  “PLA looks and feels just like plastic, but is 100% compostable and biodegradable. PLA straws will be about 2-3x the cost per straw and will also bend like a regular straw which is helpful for people with disabilities and other special needs.”

None of this, he adds, is entirely new—companies have been working toward more sustainable, eco-friendly/compostable options for years. “Typically the Midwest has been slower to adapt and the push has come from the coasts,” states Kopulos, “I believe that everyone would like to be compostable in some capacity.”

Kopulos says that over the last 10 years there “has been a huge spike in new companies emerging that only make compostable items whether it be out of bamboo or sugarcane.” In fact, 15 percent of the products Regal offers are compostable or earth friendly in some way. Kopulos points out that client companies “have very successful customers who have been around for years using the same products and do not feel the need to change unless mandated.”

The battle between branding and pricing is part of the issue, too. Kopulos’ first-hand knowledge of the system has shown him the tough decisions his customers are facing. “There is still a constant struggle and concern with keeping food cost as low as possible while presenting their products in the best possible way. As more and more manufacturers get into making more earth friendly products, cost should become more inline to non earth-friendly products.”

The current political climate is also playing a huge role in packaging availability, although it hasn’t quite hit the paper or compostable market quite yet. “The tariffs are definitely impacting aluminum such as foil and steam table pans,” says Kopulos, “One of the biggest issues we are facing today is the trucker shortage in the United States.  This has been making freight increase as trucks are harder to find and it costs more to ship.”