The Year of the Straw

by Taylor Borst , Taylor’s Take (From PromoMarketing.com/PromoJournal)

While opinions fall all over the board, there’s no doubt that they’re selling well and selling fast, so going all in on them can be financially rewarding from a sales perspective. Whether you love them or hate them, you’re missing an opportunity if you ignore this fact. Over the past few months, I’ve heard some doubt and confusion surrounding the trend and can’t get the negativity out of my mind. Yes, at face value, straws seem like a weird trend that popped out of nowhere. However, if we take a step back, we can get a better look at what’s really going on here: changing behavior and reducing waste.

Straws are not the solution to our problems – they are the catalyst for change.

Straws are our gateway drug to bigger, better solutions that can help reverse negative impact on the planet. The movement is fueled by optimism for a brighter, cleaner, more hopeful future.

One of the main criticisms of this movement is that in the grand scheme of things, reusable and paper straws don’t actually save much plastic. The truth is…they’re right. According to National Geographic, plastic straws only make up about 0.025% of the plastic that flows into the ocean every year. While cutting back any amount of pollution is wonderful, this will not single-handedly save our planet.

And that’s the point. The straw is a stepping stone, slowly training us to be more thoughtful in our consumption. As a society, if we can learn to take baby steps and prove that changing simple behaviors can lead to bigger lifestyle changes, our goal suddenly becomes more attainable.

Reducing single-use plastic is the overarching trend.

Straws are a narrow category, and it’s easy to get tunnel vision. However, there’s an overarching trend happening and it’s the movement toward fewer single-use plastic options. With several cities and states banning or planning to ban single-use plastic products, our focus for the future has to expand beyond straws. Our industry has been under scrutiny in the past for increasing waste and pollution, but that doesn’t need to be our narrative.

The phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” was intentionally written in that order. First, we must reduce the need for single-use plastic, then reuse a product repeatedly before finally recycling the materials. So often, when our industry hears the request for an “eco-friendly” option, we jump straight to products made with recycled material. While this certainly isn’t a bad thing, we’re completely missing the first two steps. On top of that, there’s a 4th “R” gaining traction that our industry needs to be prepared for- “Refuse.”  The push to “refuse” single-use plastic and seek alternative options, such as glass and stainless steel.

I’m not going to pretend to ignore the fact that our industry might have a negative reaction to the words “refuse,” “reduce” and “reuse”. Often, our livelihood is based on consumers ordering much and often. However, if Amazon and other online commodity sellers continue to encroach on our market, our strategy needs to change. The future will likely depend less on commodity sales and more on consultative marketing and creative problem-solving. Providing quality solutions that align with your customers’ goals and mission will only increase in value.

What this all could indicate is that by increasing our focus on socially-conscious practices, sustainable products and intentional consulting, we can advance our sales and the environment at the same time.

The straw is certainly enjoying its time in the spotlight, but it’s not just a standalone fad that’s here today and gone tomorrow. Straw sales will begin to wane eventually, but this is the tipping point that will increase and normalize the thoughtful approach to consumerism – and cut down on single-use plastic. If we prepare for the change ahead, our industry can make the proper adjustments to prosper in a time of increased social consciousness.

Taylor Borst is head of communications and public relations for American Solutions for Business. Joining the print and promo industry in 2015, she specializes in social media, promotional products, and supplier relations. Taylor is currently a Sous Chef with PromoKitchen, on the Networking Committee for PPAI SPARK and is an advocate for education and youth involvement in the industry. Connect with her on Instagram and LinkedIn