Grass Straws? How Cool!

We’re so excited for June as that’s when plastic straws will finally be banned in our fair city of Vancouver, BC!

Many local restaurants and pubs have already phased out plastic straws, opting instead for paper ones. It’s a bit of a shock, really, when we order a drink that comes with a plastic straw in this day and age!

There are many options – some diners have a reusable steel straw they tuck away in their purse (which we think is a pretty cool and classy idea) while others are happy to use paper straws.

Photo courtesy VOV News.

Photo courtesy VOV News.

And then there are grass straws! A Vietnamese man by the name of Tran Minh Tien owns a company called of that makes straws out of sedge grass. The grass grows wild along the Mekong Delta and, like any grass, regrows quickly. Zero Waste Siagon says that chopping the grasses helps preserve the wetlands. The riverbed, home to the sarus cranes, prevents them from being turned into cropland.

The hollow stem of the wild grass is round like a straw so all Tien has to do is cut the ends even to make straw-shaped straws and clean them with an iron rod. The straws come in two types – dried and fresh.

The dried straws (4 cents a piece) are oven-baked and last up to six months at room temperature while the fresh ones (2 cents a piece) last about two weeks in a fridge. Diners are encouraged to eat the sweet-tasting straws afterwards as it helps clean your teeth and gums.

Sounds great, right? It’s astonishing that nature even provides straws for us but we go ahead and make horrible plastic ones. A refresher: plastic straws are made of polypropylene, a petroleum-based product. They are not recyclable. They find their way into our water systems where many marine mammals choke on them. A straw may seem like a little thing, but like everything else, these small pieces of plastic add up. It’s estimated 500 million straws are used worldwide every day.

June 1st, 2019. City’s Zero Waste 2040 Strategy which also aims to eliminate foam take-out containers and cups. Vancouver will be the first major Canadian city to ban plastic drinking straws. Ban is intended to target food service facilities.

“It’s a coastal city, with the plastic items having a significant impact on the environment, we feel it’s important to take action,” City of Vancouver director of waste management and resource recover Albert Shamess told the Globe and Mail.

Tran Minh Tien. Photo courtesy VOV News.

Tran Minh Tien. Photo courtesy VOV News.

According to the City of Vancouver, approximately 57 million straws are used in Canada each day and 2.6 million disposable cups are thrown out in Vancouver every week.

Cities around the world are getting on board this anti single-use plastics movement. City council in Malibu, California voted to ban retailers from selling plastic straws and utensils to customers, also June 1st. Scotland and Taiwan both have plans to ban single-use straws. Other Lower Mainland cities, such as Port Coquitlam, are also getting with the program to ban plastic straws and bags. Other local municipalities are, sadly, lagging behind. However, some restaurants in these areas are taking their own initiative. White Spot restaurants, for example, only gives out straws on demand at its two restaurants in South Surrey as well as in Langley, Abbotsford, and Squamish. White Spot’s take-out packaging is all compostable.

A&W Canada has opted for paper straws, making the announcement to do so on last year’s World Ocean Day at the Vancouver Aquarium. It’s the first fast-food chain in North America to make the commitment.

Customers at Starbucks cafes in Vancouver (and Seattle) will be offered a strawless lid. It’s the new standard for all iced coffee, tea, and espresso beverages. The roll-out will continue eastward with Europe to follow in select stores this year.

Most places will offer paper straws as anyone who’s suffered a stroke, has autism, MS or any other physical issue knows. Unfortunately, compostable straws are no better than plastic straws when they get into the ocean. Compostable materials are made to break down in compost facility conditions, not in salt water.

We’re so happy to hear about these changes for the better!