Before an image of a turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose went viral in 2015, most consumers didn’t think twice about what their straws were made of. But with that picture — along with reports of the growing amount of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans — consumers began paying attention and looking for alternatives.
Paper straws quickly became the go-to choice among consumers to replace single-use plastic straws — good news for Hoffmaster Group Inc. of Oshkosh, which produces paper straws under the Aardvark Straws brand. Aardvark manufactures the only American-made straw on the market that is FDA compliant, uses food-grade materials and is marine degradable and compostable.
“Paper straws are completely compostable, while plastic straws last forever,” says Andy Romjue, president of Hoffmaster’s foodservice division. “Plastic and paper straws work the same way, but for some, the experience is a little bit different since paper straws have a different texture.”
But that’s a hurdle most consumers can get past, and the longer they use paper straws, the less difference they notice, he adds.
Hoffmaster manufactures a variety of paper straws from those used in cocktails to jumbo straws used in milkshakes. The company also makes custom paper straws.
“We have a patent on a bendable straw, which is something that really sets us apart,” Romjue says. “We are working on straw 2.0.
We want the user experience to be even better and take paper straws to that next level.”
Hoffmaster produces a wide selection of disposable tabletop options from napkins and table covers to paper plates and flatware. The company also makes takeout and delivery containers under its EarthWise Tree brand, something that grew more popular as more restaurants began offering delivery and carryout due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The paper straws are made at a plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., which Hoffmaster acquired as part of its purchase of Aardvark Straws in 2018. Since Hoffmaster took over, Romjue says the company’s engineers increased the plant’s manufacturing capacity.
“Paper straws are definitely becoming more popular and we want to meet that demand,” he says, adding Aardvark straws are sold to retailers and distributors.
Several large international corporations, including Starbucks, Disney and Marriott, have announced they are moving away from using plastic straws in response to consumer demand and an effort to become more eco-friendly.
More municipalities are also banning the use of plastic straws due to their impact on the environment. Cities with a ban on plastic straws include Seattle, Washington, D.C., and dozens of cities in both Florida and California. In Europe, single-use plastic straws will no longer be allowed by the end of the year, while Canada is looking to do the same in 2021.
In Wisconsin, both Madison and Milwaukee adopted rules earlier this year banning restaurants and bars from giving customers plastic straws unprompted — although they can still be handed out in a drive-thru. In-restaurant, diners can ask for a straw and still receive a plastic one or restaurants can make the switch to using paper straws.
“I definitely believe we will see more cities and maybe even some states ban plastic straws,” says Romjue, adding that besides the environmental impact, some cities also look to ban the straws since they often end up as litter.
Romjue says Aardvark straws set themselves apart from the imported competition because they are sturdy. “If you use a poorly made paper straw, it could make you shy away from using them in the future,” he says. “With Aardvark, consumers get a good experience and are more likely to use them again.”