Whether you’ve noticed it or not, you’ve probably been in a restaurant recently with signage indicating that they will provide plastic straws only upon request. Limiting the use of plastic straws has become the latest salvo in the efforts against single-use plastic products. First was Styrofoam cups, then plastic bags, and now straws. What does this mean for foodservice single-use items going forward?
The current trend to limit straws started as a question about wasteful habits and what impact they have on the environment. The US will use around $600 million worth of single-use straws every year by 2022. Straws are often provided automatically with beverages, and unfortunately, a large number of them find their way into waterways. An item designed for 10 minutes of use, can cause decades of ecological problems if not disposed of properly. And we have proven inept at disposing of them properly.
Single-Use Plastics Draw Short Straw Against New Laws & Regulations
The movement has spurred cities, stadiums, companies, and even countries to rethink their relationships with straws and other single-use plastic, including:
Paper or Plastic?
Straws certainly aren’t going to disappear. The increased popularity of eating and drinking on the go makes the complete removal of straw options problematic. In addition, certain populations like the disabled and elderly – and the bearded –have very legitimate needs and preferences for them. However, this movement has the potential to substantially impact the market for single-use plastic straws. Alternatives such as paper and bamboo straws, as well as reusable versions made of metal have already experienced increased attention.
Properly recycled plastic straws (as well as cups, plates, cutlery, and containers) would limit the amount of raw material used and accumulation of solid waste in landfills or waterways. Unfortunately, that requires the trifecta of available, separate receptacles, adequate recycling infrastructure, and willing consumers. Straws have the added disadvantage of being too lightweight to sort and recycle economically.
The recent bans show no signs of slowing or being limited to just straws, although in foodservice applications, plastic single-use items make possible the growing consumer trends for:
- specialty hot and cold drinks
- on-the-go eating
These trends will drive demand growth for single-use foodservice items 3.2% annually to $21.8 billion in 2021. Straws will account for around $600 million of that. However, municipal regulations and voluntary efforts will likely influence the demand for plastic and paper single-use items.
To Learn More
For additional information about the single-use foodservice industry, including relevant products, foodservice markets, and major industry suppliers, check out the the Freedonia Group’s new study Foodservice Single-Use Items in the US.
About the Author
C. Vernon Henry is an analyst at the Freedonia Group, where he writes studies focused on the packaging industry.