Small businesses struggle with implementing plastic straw alternatives

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. - A national trend to ditch plastic straws for more environmentally-friendly options is taking hold in the Tri-Cities but one local business owner thinks it might be difficult for small businesses to implement long-term.

Environmental groups say single-use plastics account for about 40 percent of the plastic found in the ocean. Major cities like New York and Washington D.C. are working on proposals to ditch the plastic straw in favor of environmentally-friendly options like hay, stainless steel or paper straws. Recently, Seattle became the first major city in the U.S. to ban plastic straws. In July, big coffee chain Starbucks said it will phase out plastic straws by 2020 and instead will offer a straw-less lid.

The Corner Cup in Jonesborough currently offers stainless steel straws for dine-in customers. Local non-profit organization Smashparks donated 100 metal straws to five, local restaurants. "People are very willing to try something new," said The Corner Cup Owner Deb Kruse. Kruse, a former park ranger, said she knows the importance of protecting the environment and likes the idea of environmentally-friendly straws, but there are cost-barriers for small businesses. "It cost about four dollars for a box of 300 plastic straws. For a box of 300 paper straws it cost about $30. That's a huge difference and as a small business that is not do-able. So right now we're struggling with that." Instead, Kruse said she encourages people to buy metal straws and carry them around. "If everybody did a little part it would have a benefit."

Some people want Johnson City to be the next city to make the switch from plastic to metal. Johnson City Mayor David Tomita said a few people have approached him about the idea. "Bans are just something that you don't enter into lightly," he said. Tomita said he doesn't anticipate a citywide ban happening. He also noted that most cities working to ban plastic straws are on the coast and the straws are more likely to end up in the ocean and hurt marine life. The mayor said plastic straws thrown away in the city end up in the landfill.

Mayor Tomita said he would willing to look at how commonly disposed plastics are treated by the city. "I 'd like to take a look at it not specifically from that one item because straws are not the only item made out of polypropylene that are going into the landfill. Let's take a look at yogurt containers and bottle caps." 

City officials in Kingsport and Bristol, Tennessee said no plans are in the works to ban plastic straws.

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