Pasta Straws? Plastic Restrictions Force Local Businesses to Get Creative

A bill, which was amended by the Senate in June, states that full-service restaurants are prohibited to provide "single-use plastic straws to consumers unless requested by the costumer."

Bob Morris received a call from the city stating he could no longer serve plastic straws at his restaurant, the Paradise Cove Beach Café in Malibu. The city was calling local businesses in anticipation of a plastic straw ban.

It was suggested that Morris use paper straws, but he needed a thick and durable straw for the coconut and boba drinks offered at his restaurant.

For an efficient replacement, Morris looked across the globe for inspiration.

"At 3 o'clock in the morning, I stood up and said, 'I got it!'" Morris said. "Years ago in Italy I saw this straw, so I decided to bring them back and put it to the test."

Morris rolled out the pasta straws in May. The straws last in a cold drink for up to four hours and compost in a little more than a day, he said.

"The guests love being part of the solution," Morris said. "This is a very simple solution to an extremely difficult problem."

On June 1, the city of Malibu began prohibiting the "use, distribution, and sale of single-use plastic straws, stirrers, and cutlery items in all retail stores and restaurants." This is as an effort to promote environmental conservation and reduce choked sea-life.

Santa Monica also followed suit. This week, the Santa Monica City Council approved an ordinance to ban a variety of single-use plastics, among them plastic straws.    

The regulations may soon expand statewide. California Assembly Bill 1884 would prohibit full-service restaurants from providing "single-use plastic straws to consumers unless requested by the costumer."

The bill was introduced by Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon (D-Whittier) and Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica).

"We’re not even asking, at the state level, for people to stop using straws entirely," Bloom said. "We’re asking people to think about it."

But local business owners are worried future plastic straw regulations may affect the way they conduct business.

Boba Lab in Santa Monica depends on straws to sell its drinks with boba. The shop’s owner, Lyn Chen, said she uses nearly 2,000 straws a months.

"The boba straw is part of the experience," Chen said. "It's part of the culture. A lot of people get excited when they see the big, fat straw." 

Chen hopes to implement non-plastic straws, but the high cost of the eco-friendly options has made the switch difficult. 

"We've actually looked for other alternatives, like using compostable straws, but that will cost us 100 percent more than what we're paying," Chen said. "It's not very sustainable if we have to pay more for it." 

She is currently looking at implementing bamboo straws within the next four months. These straws could last up to one year or 736 uses, Chen said.

Getting rid of straws altogether is not an option for shops like Boba Lab.

"It’s really important that we still use a straw for it, whether it be a bamboo straw or a paper straw that would actually work," Chen said.

Assemblyman Bloom said legislation on plastic will make people more conscious when using the material. 

"This is also an opportunity to educate the public about being more responsible stewards of our environment," he said.

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