Austin businesses move away from single-use plastic straws

Eilish O'Sullivan

Many Austin-area businesses are moving away from using single-use plastic straws in an effort to promote more environmentally friendly practices.

Anthony Rivera, co-director of UT’s Campus Environmental Center, was initially really happy when he heard businesses were moving away from using single-use plastic straws.

“From there, we could work on reducing other kinds of single-use plastic … that end up polluting our oceans and harming wildlife,” Rivera said. “Not many people considered how a straw ban would impact individuals with disabilities, myself included. … Now that a light has been shined on the impact it could have on people with disabilities, we must change our mindset.”

Many people with disabilities rely on plastic straws, which provide both flexibility and strength, to drink, according to NPR.

“We must find a way to both reduce the harm that single-use plastic causes our environment and provide for those who need a certain quality of product to live,” Rivera said. “I think the solution lies with listening to people with disabilities and taking their needs into account when planning straw bans and reductions.”

Straws are not the biggest problem when it comes to marine plastic pollution, but activists look at straws as a “gateway plastic,” which could lead to a reduction in other more serious plastics, according to Vox.

In April, government sophomore Maggie Okhuysen testified in front of the Austin’s Zero Waste Advisory Commission asking them to recommend the city pass an ordinance that would require restaurants, fast food chains and bars to have “request only” straw policies.

“Single-use plastic straws are not recyclable, and they do not decompose. … They are ending up in landfills, storm drains, oceans, or in our water and food systems,” Environment Texas intern Okhuysen said to the committee. “Nothing we use for 10 minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years.”

The Vortex, a theater and bar, along with Patrizi’s, an Italian food truck located outside of the Vortex, are both part of one of the pilot programs for the City of Austin’s Zero Waste Initiative. Plastic straws and stirrers are too small to recycle, according to Austin’s recycling guide. The initiative hopes to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills by 90 percent by 2040.

“We still use straws, but they are all compostable straws,” Patrizi’s owner Nic Patrizi said in an email. “We use only compostable plates and forks, and the bar only uses compostable straws as well.”

Compostable straws, which can be made from plant matter, are being used as an alternative to plastic straws.

“We encourage no straw use, however some people like straws,” Patrizi said. “We take on the burden of the extra cost to the business by purchasing non plastic biodegradable straws.”

Juiceland on Guadalupe Street is still using single-use plastic straws but gives a 10 percent discount to customers who bring their own reusable ones. Juiceland also sells stainless steel straws for $7.55 to discourage usage of single-use plastic straws.

Rivera said he thinks a good a solution to this issue could be plant-based straws that still provide flexibility and strength, or an “only upon request” policy for the single-use plastic straws.

“Whatever it may be, I look forward to seeing how companies and advocacy groups can work together to both reduce environmental impact and provide for their customers with disabilities,” Rivera said.