Brain freeze paper straw


Stopped in coffee shop the other day. Got a caramel coffee frozen beverage with extra whipped cream that Terry and I were going to share.

For those of you that might not know, paper straws are available in a lot of places now. And, overall, I applaud the move. Considering that almost all of them are used once and only once, the waste created just from straws has to be incredible. We all win by finding more ways to create improved packaging and items, especially those with relatively small usage windows.

But there are problems. Quality problems.

Have you ever used a paper straw? The qualityómore precisely, often the lack of qualityóinvolved in the paper straw industry is, often, discouraging. On this particular day, our straw unraveled on the first exchange between us. We hadnít taken more than two sips out of the cup and we needed another straw. Two ideas immediately come into play, and a third hovers nearby:

1 Ė At what point does the use of a paper straw no longer provide an environmental benefit as opposed to a plastic straw? Sure, if weíre just taking straws off the counter, the answer is probably never. You could pick up more than a thousand paper straws, and they could still be processed as trash better than a single plastic straw. I get that. But remember that they need to be produced. They have to be made. Itís not simply disposal benefits that have to be weighed here. If I routinely need two or more straws every time I use paper ones, there could be a point where Iím not making as significant a gain as it would seem.

2 Ė The cup and lid of our thick and frozen beverage was plastic. WhichÖ yeahÖ just, yeah.

3 Ė This is not our first, second or third difficulty with a paper straw.

I donít want to point the finger at any one business here. There are plenty of places that arenít doing anything to improve operations in an environmentally aware way, so letís actually give the makes of our extra caramel in the drizzle concoction a bit of credit. Offering paper straws is a positive step.

Credit extended, however, the crazy issue remains.

Paper straws? It removes plastic waste. Thatís good. It also can place a higher demand on paper manufacturing, which can mean a need to cut down more trees, andÖ wellÖ you may already see where this is going. Those unintended consequences of my needing a second straw for my one drink can suddenly begin adding up. If trees are being planted and steps to reduce waste investigated, fantastic. But experience tells me that many times things like that arenít done and the dirty truths are hidden behind the curtain.

Over the years, Iíve been in plenty of seminars and training programs where the fear of change is one of the hot topics of teachable habits. And raising awareness of that is good. It is absolutely true that people at times donít grant something new the opportunity they should for no better reason than it means an end to the standard routine.

For me, Iím not opposed to change. I just want to play devilís advocate in the process because Iíd like to believe that in developing something new a bit of thought was given to things like benefits and quality.

True: The way itís always been done is not an acceptable blanket defense of how to do it.

Equally true: The way itís always been done is sometimes the best way to do it.

I want the paper straw.

I also want better cups and covers. Ones that hold my beverage, close securely, and are easy when it comes to disposal.

I also want to know the benefits of the paper straw arenít being lost in poor manufacturing efforts to produce the straw, or a shrug of the shoulders because recycling isnít worth the cost and effort it requires.

Is it too much to ask that when it comes to the right thing to do, we take a moment to look things over and make sure itís also the right way to do it? I hope not. But then again, some people donít care about the paper straws (or how theyíre being made).


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