“I put up with the inconvenience because it’s green…” The Betrayal of the Paper Straw

With the recent “green” movement, more and more cafes and restaurants are using the phrase. Plastic straws have become rare in franchised cafes. Most have replaced them with paper straws or modified their cup lids to virtually eliminate plastic straws.

However, consumers complained about paper straws because they became soggy when the drink got wet. In response, synthetic resins such as polyethylene (PE) were coated on the outside to create “paper straws that do not get wet easily.” However, it is difficult to recycle them, which has led to controversy over whether the purpose of introducing them was to emphasize eco-friendliness.
Soggy paper straws, a plastic coating?

Photo not for publication purposes./photo=Getty Images Bank

According to retailers on World Environment Day, the industry has been stepping up its green initiatives recently, including reducing the amount of plastic used and making it easier to dispose of.

Paper straws are a prime example. Many franchised cafes, including Starbucks and Two Thumb Place, use paper straws as an alternative to plastic.

Although corn, glass, stainless steel, and silicone straws are considered eco-friendly products, paper straws are the cheapest. In fact, according to the Ministry of Environment’s “Straw Production Unit Cost by Material,” plastic straws cost 10 to 15 won per piece, paper straws cost 35 to 45 won, rice straws cost 55 to 70 won, and bamboo straws cost 100 to 200 won.

The problem is that paper straws are often not recycled when disposed of. The Ministry of Environment released a study in 2019 that found that paper straws have a 72.9% lower environmental impact than plastic. However, the study was controversial because it only included the “production” part of the process, leaving out the “disposal” part.

Paper straws coated with synthetic resins are classified as municipal waste and are difficult to recycle, and can release microplastics in the ocean if the coating material is non-biodegradable plastic. Uncoated paper straws are also classified as municipal waste because they are often soggy with beverages.
But why not? ‘Green’ sells먹튀검증

Photo courtesy of GS25

There’s a reason why companies do green marketing, even if it comes with question marks about actual greenness. As consumer interest in “green” grows, a company’s green credentials can have a positive impact on its bottom line.

As a result, companies are accelerating their ESG (environmental, social, and governance) management. Since the government banned the use of plastic straws in food service outlets such as cafes and restaurants nationwide on Nov. 24 last year, the pace of paper straw adoption has accelerated.

In February, Nongshim replaced the existing plastic straws in its Capri Sun drinks with paper ones. Convenience store GS25 developed a strawless ice cup in November last year, and in April this year, it stopped ordering plastic consumable straws altogether and used only paper straws.

For the company, going plastic-free is having a positive effect on increasing sales. The Seoul Metropolitan Government held a sales event for green products with online shopping malls such as G-market and auctions from August to November last year, generating a total of 630 million won in sales, up 43 percent from the same period the previous year.

In a Korea Research survey, nearly half (56%) of respondents in their 20s and 30s said they would buy eco-friendly products or products from companies that fulfill their social responsibilities, even if the price is a bit high.

In the industry, some say that the inconvenience of eco-friendly products is acceptable. “We have no choice but to keep paper straws in our stores because of our policy, even though people say they are uncomfortable because they shed when used for a long time,” said a franchisor.

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