The Last Plastic Straw: Success with Stainless


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Photo source: Ghostlight Coffee

[S]ometimes, a good idea simply sells itself.

“We put a container of stainless steel straws for sale for $2 each by our cash register with a sign that said, ‘It’s Up to You,’” says Shane Anderson, owner of Ghostlight Coffee in Dayton, Ohio. “That’s the tagline that we’ve been using, because we can offer these things, but it’s up to the customer to make the choice to use them.”

“We really didn’t do any other promotion than that, and they have sold great,” he continues. “Immediately people were showing interest. Our first order this summer sold out in just a matter of days.”

Anderson has been sourcing the metal straws from Amazon and figures he has invested about $1 to $1.50 in each one. Selling the straws isn’t about making a profit, he explains. It’s about giving customers the opportunity to choose something reusable.

As cafés across the country join the movement to do away with single-use straws, stainless steel offers an attractive, multiple-use alternative.

In Amarillo, Texas, Palace Coffee Company began selling stainless steel straws for $2.50 each at its four citywide locations earlier this summer.

The response has been “very positive,” says Sam Gum, the café’s director of retail. “Recently I overhead a husband tell his wife when she was preparing to purchase one: ‘You already have three of those. Do you really need another?’ So they’ve already developed a bit of a fan base. … But the real goal is to encourage customers to purchase one and bring it back in every time they come.”

In Amarillo, where citywide recycling is not currently available, Gum says there’s still a bit of an education component involved in their marketing of the straws.

“We want people to realize that while they are cool, we’re not presenting them as just another cool piece of merchandise to buy,” she says. “The idea is to keep it in your car and use it daily as a way to eliminate waste.”

Driven largely by the green thinking of their baristas—especially Adriana Rella, lead barista at its Summit location—Palace has begun to adopt multiple, simple steps to reduce waste in the way they serve their customers. This includes offering discounts for reusable cups and making laminated paper squares (as a sort of DIY dry-erase board) to write orders on, in place of single-use Post-it Notes.

Palace Coffee sells branded reusable vessels. Photo source: Palace Coffee

“It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer waste we produce as a society,” says Rella. “It seems silly that we have so much unnecessary garbage when it doesn’t take much to limit it.”

For those wondering about the ease of cleaning and maintaining the stainless steel straws, Rella has the answer: pipe cleaners. While commercial straw cleaners are available, Palace Coffee encourages customers to try pipe cleaners since they’re just as effective, cheaper, and can be rinsed and used multiple times.

At Ghostlight, the success of the stainless straw sales has helped illustrate that customers want to make good choices. Anderson feels it’s his mission, as a shop owner, to help make it possible for them to do so.

He’s recently partnered with Dayton-based GoZERO composting services and GreenSpeed Products to ramp up the café’s composting capabilities and is well on the way to becoming a no-waste coffee shop by year’s end.

“Over the years of doing business, you find yourself watching all these bags and bags of lids and cups going out the door every day, essentially to a landfill. And you just know it’s not good,” he says. “So you start looking for other options that make sense.”

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Robin Roenker

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