The Last Plastic Straw: Backlot Coffee

by

Editorial Policy

Published on

Last updated on

New Orleans Style Cold Brew

[B]ack in April—months ahead of Seattle’s citywide ban, which went into effect this July—Backlot Coffee abolished unrecyclable plastic straws in their Chicago and Evanston, Illinois, cafés.

“The idea was really brought to us by customers who wanted to see us do better, and we were like, ‘You’re right, we should!’” said Isaac Bloom, who co-founded Backlot in 2016 with business partner John Kim.

Starting on Earth Day (April 20) 2018, Backlot replaced standard plastic straws with paper and PLA (plastic biodegradable) straws for takeaway. They also started serving stainless steel straws for dine-in customers, and additionally began composting all their coffee grounds and compostable serving products with Evanston, Illinois-based Collective Resource, a commercial composting service. All told, Bloom estimates they’re redirecting about 2,000 pounds of waste every month from going into landfills.

Meanwhile, Bloom ramped up Backlot’s marketing of branded mugs, glassware, and Hydro Flasks, selling them at cost during the launch of the Earth-friendly campaign. Furthermore, the cafés started offering an ongoing, per-cup discount to customers who bring in their own reusable container, with bigger savings for those who use the shop’s branded ware.

Paper straws are offered to to-go customers who request one—ideally, in one of Backlot’s brand-new branded, reusable mugs.

“If you bring in one of our large Hydro Flasks, we charge you for a small size,” Bloom said. “We are seeing a ton of them now every day. It basically pays for itself in a matter of months, and from that point forward it’s like a reward program for our regular customers, without having a punch card.”

Bloom decided not to go completely straw-free. Some customers still choose to use them, while others have a genuine need for one. So he researched alternatives, manufacturers, and suppliers online. He ordered samples and tried them out with hot and cold drinks, asking his staff and customers for their feedback.

Options for Hot Drinks

Bloom found that paper straws tend to fall apart in lattes and other hot drinks, so he opted instead for PLA straws, which are made from a compostable, corn-based polymer. Backlot has also switched to recyclable or compostable to-go cups and lids, and compostable paper bags and utensils.

Most popular of all, though, are the stainless steel straws Backlot now uses for dine-in service. “Those have been the biggest hit—so much so that people have asked if they can buy them from us,” Bloom said. “So now we’re looking at making custom-branded stainless straws to sell as well. That’s been a surprise we didn’t see coming.”

Cleaning the reusable steel straws has not been overly burdensome. “They come with a little brush which goes into the straws, so we scrub them out on both ends with soap and water, rinse them, and soak them in sanitizer. It’s an extra step, but it’s not that difficult,” Bloom said.

“For businesses, it’s an easy decision to make—it’s a small change that can have a big impact,” Bloom said.


More on sustainability on-the-go >>
Bring your own mug >>

Share This Article

Robin Roenker

Join 7,000+ coffee pros and get top stories, deals, and other industry goodies in your inbox each week.

Other Articles You May Like

Chatter in the Café: How To Control and Manage the Noise

Great aesthetics do not have to mean terrible acoustics. Learn how cafés can blend effective sound design with the right ambiance.
by Carrie Pallardy | December 8, 2022

When Is the Right Time to Open a Second Location?

The decision to open a second cafe isn’t an easy one. If you’re considering expansion, here are three signs you’re ready to grow your cafe business.
by Haley Greene | December 7, 2022

Stay Moving: The Best Products To Serve For Coffee Carts, Trucks, and Caterers

Coffee is on the move! Learn what products work best for mobile operations and how to maximize both space and revenue.
by Anne Mercer | November 18, 2022

Reading the Signs: How To Use Signage Effectively In Your Café

How cafe owners can design in-store signage that tells the right story to customers.
by Jordan Johnson | November 17, 2022