Pablo Hernandez showing the metal straws his bubble tea shop, Identitea, plans to offer customers when San Francisco’s straw ban goes into effect next year. Photo by Rosa Tuiran Grobet.

A month after San Francisco passed a citywide plastic straw ban in July, brothers Alberto and Pablo Hernandez opened a boba tea shop on 24th and Mission. At the bottom of boba beverages sit chewy tapioca balls, that drinkers of the popular beverage suck up using wide plastic straws. The new law presented a problem for the brothers’ new business, Identitea.

“We are trying to remove the plastic straws from the store as soon as possible,” Alberto said.

San Francisco is one of the only cities in the United States to ban plastic straws. In the coming year, California will become the first state to prohibit restaurants from offering customers plastic straws when AB 1884 goes into effect January 1, 2019. The bans were spurred by the growing amounts of plastic waste found in oceans. Five trillion plastic pieces—including plastic straws—are floating in the ocean, according to one study.

“Sometimes you need a change in the law to spark a change in the industry,” said Supervisor Katy Tang, who came up with the idea for the ban after realizing that people use plastic straws just once before throwing them away.

Though well-intentioned, the ban is creating challenges for hundreds of San Francisco businesses that rely on plastic straws to sell their products. The law sent boba tea stores, as well as juice bars, coffee shops and restaurants scrambling to find alternatives before the city’s July 1, 2019, deadline.

At La Cumbre Taquería on 16th Street and Valencia, the restaurant is organizing a meeting next week to decide what they’ll replace place straws with. The owner is also offering employees the chance to take a recycling course to learn more about how to help the environment.

At Mercado Brasil, a Brazilian market and café at  24th and Valencia, restaurant owners said they are used to adapting to new demands — like customers who request paper cups, not plastic.

But straws pose a new challenge: “I have to start buying paper straws, but they are way more expensive,” she said.

San Francisco-based Eco-pliant is one of just a few U.S. companies that makes paper straws. Eco-pliant CEO Jimmy Lyons said he expects business to pick up as the date of the ban implementation nears.

Eben Schwartz, who manages marine debris for the California Coastal Commission, said the ban will likely be as effective as the 2014 California ban on plastic bags, which helped reduce bag waste along the California coast from 8.7 percent of all coastal waste in 2015 to 1.2 percent in 2017, according to data from Coastal Clean Up day.

“That is a huge drop,” Schwartz said.

At Boba Guys, another boba tea shop on 19th Street and Lexington, 10-year-old customer Pomaikai Bohannan said she uses wooden straws at home. She also offered another alternative to plastic straws for Boba drinkers: a spoon.

At Identitea, the Hernandez brothers decided to ask their customers what they wanted in place of plastic straws. The response: reusable ones. So, to satisfy their customers, they turned to their uncle in Taiwan to help them produce their own branded, brightly-colored stainless steel straws. For now, they plan to sell them for $3.75 a piece — and each straw will come with its own cleaning brush.

And yes, Pablo said, they expect customers to bring their own straws every time they come.

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    1. Aardvark says their paper straws will instantly dissolve with hot liquids and with cool liquids quickly. I usually pick up a large drink for when driving for many hours – no straw means more likely to crash. And oh, don’t forget paper straws are whitened with bleach – really good for the environment, not. How many trees must you kill for your stupid paper straws? Why do you hate trees? Don’t just give them up – many drinks taste better with straws.

      “The first sip, spectacular. A complex melding of madeira, fino sherry, and grappa. The second sip barely made it through the straw. By the third sip I was trying to suck the pricey cocktail through a wet noodle, the straw’s insides fraying, emanating the smell of soggy paper instead of a refreshing fruit salad of mixed berries and lemon peel. There would be no fourth sip, as I had to toss the paper straw aside and ever so carefully drink from the ice-heaped cocktail instead.”

      The ban on plastic straws is foolish (where the only supporting “expert” is a 9-year old child). Missing from the fanfare is the inconvenient fact that by ditching plastic straws, Starbucks (and others) will actually be INCREASING its plastic use. It turns out the new nitro sippy lids Starbucks and others are using to replace their straws are made up of more plastic than the current lid / straw combination. Aardvark admits their paper straws are NOT recyclable and will cost us all $2 billion more a year and so are a solution to nothing (except for the plastic straw company that just bought them as a solution to how to make even more money on straws). At most, straws account for 0.02 percent of all plastic waste (the primary problem is plastic Chinese fishing nets). The pollution problem posed by straws looks even smaller when considering the United States is responsible for less than just one percent of plastic waste entering the oceans. So, do you only buy American made? What does it say in your underwear after “made in?” Have you’ve stopped using disposable plastic razors? No? Don’t for a second think that reusable is any better as washing them has a far greater impact.

      A 2011 EPA report found paper bags have a three times higher carbon footprint than plastic bags. Paper production emits 70% more pollution and 50 times more water pollutants than making plastic bags. The production of paper bags uses three times the amount of water and four times as much energy (oil and coal) as it takes to make plastic bags. Finally, it takes about 91% more energy to recycle a pound of paper than a pound of plastic (which represents a huugely greater number of bags). Plastic bags were specifically designed to save trees – it’s why baggers have been asking MAY we give you plastic? Again, reusable bags have been shown to promote disease. Why do you suddenly so hate trees, the environment, and yourself?

      30% of Mexican trees have been cut down for your precious avocados – horrible for the environment. Why aren’t you capable to care more? Now, the only consumer product with a greater environmental impact (than tree killing “organic”) is your cell phone (and the Internet – mostly coal powered). If you want to make a real difference, we should never hear from you again. That would be great statement. I hope you will consider it. #GoAmish LOL

      Clearly time to recycle some bone marrow, lungs, kidneys, and heart for someone smarter. It’s the only environmentally rational thing to do.

  1. I refuse straws in restaurants and anywhere else they’re offered. If you’re so infantile that you need to suck on a straw (medically challenged people who need them for medical reasons exempted), I have no sympathy for you.