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200-packs of polypropylene straws available in clear and black from Buswell. cocktailkingdom.com

Reuseable Straws: What’s the Deal?

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Plastic straws seem to have proverbially broken the sustainability camel’s back—but can a metal or silicone straw really be your bar’s last?
By Laura Zolman Kirk December 2018 New Products

Straw retribution came swiftly in 2018. With the passing of laws both abroad in the U.K and at home in California banning the distribution of disposable plastic straws, big company after big company—Starbucks to Hilton to American Airlines—vowed to rid their beverages of the product as quickly as possible.

Solutions in the quick-service world include everything from adult sippy cups to paper straws, while many consumers now carry their own bamboo, metal, and silicone varieties. But a lot of these consumer-geared reusable straws require tiny, specialized tools to clean the products by hand—which are not conducive for professional use.

Most bartenders, who see the volume of trash collected from plastic straws firsthand, note the need for a standout reusable option.

"Plastic has been and still is a great burden for the environment, so it's time to change the rules," says Bruno Molfetta of Bar 314 in New York.

"Plus reusable straws look better," says Maxx Kleiner of Carnivale in Chicago.

But many agree there isn't a perfect solution to this debate.

While cleaning reusable straws doesn't seem to bother Molfetta—who notes a good rinse in hot water or soak in a vinegar and baking soda solution is all that is needed—others, especially those experiencing a higher volume of traffic, don't see reusable products as sanitary or practical behind the bar.

"I think that reusable straws are a great idea for small-volume venues with an attention to detail. However, at a restaurant like ours, where we serve over 500 guests on busy nights, it is not an option," says Brice Peressini at Vancouver's The Victor.

Establishments like Restaurant Holmes in Alpharetta, Georgia, Chotto Matte in Miami, and national chain Black Angus Steakhouse are transitioning to paper straws, like those sold by Aardvark. "Because of the sanitary issues that can arise with reusable straws, you won't see them at our restaurants," says Amanda Rosenbloom of Black Angus Steakhouse.

Aardvark

The Aardvark paper straw comes in Jumbo, Giant, Cocktail, Colossal, Bar Stir, and Jumbo Eco-Flex. aardvarkstraws.com

However, Ben Rouse at Henley in Nashville argues there are sanitary reusable options. "All of our reusable straws, from bamboo to acrylic and metal straws, go through a cleaning process that includes being washed and rinsed at 180 degrees F, which is completely sanitary," he says.

Diego Alejandro Peña-Herrera, the bar manager at Eastern Standard, says the move to reusable was an organic one for the Boston restaurant. Paper straws, his team believed, break down too quickly in a beverage and could bleed dyes that might not be safe to drink, so the bar turned to reusable clear Buswell polypropylene straws. "In the long term, if we are able to get maybe 50 uses out of each straw, we would break even with single-use straws," Peña-Herrera says. "Safety and sanitation were our main concern. We consulted with the Board of Health and made sure we follow all the procedures to ensure the product is sanitary and safe to use." The Buswell straws are BPA-free, dishwasher-safe, recyclable, and were within the bar's price range.

Other bar keeps are turning away from the debate entirely to create cocktails that don't ask for a straw at all. "The best option that I have found is to design cocktails to not use straws," says Alex Fletcher, beverage director at Dallas' Harlowe MXM.

Sean Stangle of Las Vegas' Estiatorio Milos echoes Fletcher's sentiment. "At Milos, we've eliminated the need for a straw by rimming the glass with a citrus peel and expressing the oils from the peel over the drink. This makes the rim of the glass integral in the enjoyment and taste/aroma of the cocktail," he says.