Grasping at Straws?

By Peter Horwitz, Tiger Packaging Founder and CEO

The restaurant business has come to a fork in the road (pun intended.)

As we all know, major cities such as Seattle, New York and Chicago have instituted bans on plastic straws, bags or food containers, and major restaurant chains are following suit. Starbucks announced plans to phase out plastic straws by 2020 and Bon Appetit Management is planning to ban straws at more than 1,000 locations in 33 states. Could the next targets be plastic cutlery, plastic cups, trash bags and soufflé cups? (The U.K. chains Boston Tea Party and Waitrose have already announced complete bans on disposable cups.)

Yet, plastics are a cost-effective material that has become an integral part of any restaurant business. The high usage of disposables in our daily lives is staggering. According to National Geographic, scientists estimate that 500 million plastic straws are used daily, and Earth Day Network states that 500 billion plastic cups are used globally each year.

Tough reality: plastic is with us for life. Whether we like it or not, it will be an essential part of manufacturing.

However, I believe it’s our duty to determine the best way to lessen its impact on the environment. And while it may seem daunting to source new single-use products that comply with regulations, there are ways to navigate this shift to be more environmentally conscious, without negatively impacting your bottom line.

At Tiger Packaging, we identify and source quality alternative products that use less virgin plastic content and more compostable or biodegradable materials. For example, I work with manufacturers that produce straws, cutlery and cups made with PLA (polylactic acid) a bioactive thermoplastic derived from renewable resources such as corn starch, cassava root or sugarcane. Standard PLA is bio-based, compostable, transparent and recyclable.

Recently, I helped a major full-service restaurant brand provide nearly 2.5 million PLA straws to its chains throughout the U.S. I’m also working with a retail chain on replacing its virgin retail handle bags with a printed, recycled plastic bag which contains more than 70 percent PCR (post-consumer repro). It can be a bit tricky – as many biodegradable bags are not fully compostable.

In summary, these bans are not a passing trend and will continue to be a discouraged vice in our society. But, before you start grasping at straws, give me a call. There are a host of environmentally friendly products that you can start incorporating into your restaurant or food service business to help support these global efforts. It takes someone with the knowledge, contacts and logistical capabilities to present you with a full plate of options. (Pun intended.)