Monday, July 16, 2018

The Last Straw? - The Death of Plastic in Bars

The use of paper straws is becoming more popular.
© Nicholas Morgan

One of the hottest topics currently circulating the drinks industry is the use of plastic and improving sustainability. Many bars in the UK are working hard to reduce the amount of waste and non-recyclable materials that it produces in the wake of heightened awareness and increased public outcry.

The environmental impact of bar waste was largely unconsidered by the majority of establishments and their consumers until recently. This change of focus has forced the industry to take a serious look at the issue and seek alternatives to become more eco-friendly.

This clean up is supported by large organisations such as the Scotch Whisky Association who plan to phase out the use of plastic barware, including straws and stirrers, as part of the Scotch industry’s commitment to environmental and sustainability issues. This also extends to an initiative that will see all Scotch whisky packaging be 100% recyclable by 2020, for example.

The phasing out of plastic by bars and whisky companies is not particularly new, but it has gained serious momentum in the last year or so. One catalyst was a clip that went viral on YouTube showing black bar straws floating amongst other plastic items just off an idyllic tourist beach resort in Bali. The reaction to the clip was massive and presented a clear danger to the local wildlife and ecosystem.

"It is encouraging to see Scotch whisky producers taking steps to phase out unnecessary plastics," says Karen Betts, the Chief Executive of the Scotch Whisky Association. "We hope that this commitment will lead to the industry uniting behind biodegradable alternatives so that Scotch whisky and cocktails can continue to be enjoyed without discarded plastics continuing to have a damaging impact on land as well as at sea."

Many pubs, bars and restaurants have now removed plastic all together and offer their customers alternative solutions. Others are beginning to act in the face of consumer backlash. Most offer paper straws instead, although some of these still have a thin plastic coating on them for waterproofing.

High-end cocktail bars offer copper or steel straws that can be simply washed and reused many times over. Other alternatives include the use of natural biodegradable fibres such as coconut husk or pasta tubes. The metallic option is expensive for a bar initially but offers a long-term option. The down side is that they are also desirable and therefore stolen by customers.

Some bars are using metal straws to tackle the issue.
© Whisky For Everyone 

There are a number of bars, like the award-winning Dandelyon in London for example, that are taking sustainability one step further by recycling bar waste, such as citrus peel and spent ice, in creative ways to produce syrups, bitters or garnishes. These are then used to create more cocktails.

The current situation will only continue to improve, especially as more people make a stand and demand an alternative. Next time you order a drink, question inclusion of plastic. Ask for another solution. Do you even need a straw? Does your G&T need a stirrer? Think before you drink and help make the world a better place ...