Local businesses in Columbia have begun providing customers with paper straws to reduce the use of plastic. Places like Publico in Five Points have been met with a positive response to the straws. 

Businesses in Columbia are becoming more environmentally friendly by introducing plastic straw alternatives. 

Columbia business Publico Kitchen + Tap is doing part by going straw-less and using paper straws instead. Devin Maes, Publico’s general manager, sees this as a step in the right direction.

“We need to be more eco-friendly and sustainable,” Maes said.

According to the National Park Service, 500 million straws are used each day in the world. Because the tubes are not biodegradable, these pieces of plastic resurface in rivers and oceans.

Publico introduced paper straws last week and met with positive responses from customers.

“Even before we were doing the paper straws we wouldn’t give out a straw unless the customer asked to try and discourage excessive use of plastic,” Maes said. “So now that we do have paper straws we still don’t give them out unless customers ask. But they’re curious about this and want to know what it’s about so we definitely have seen an increase in people using paper straws.”

Among other Columbia establishments that use paper straws: Drip Coffee, Motor Supply Bistro, Bourbon and Curiosity Coffee Bar. 

Another alternative to plastic straws is stainless steel straws. Mast General Store on Main Street sells 4-packs of these straws equipped with a cleaning tool.

“I definitely notice straws in customers hands now. We have a steady stock of them and you’re seeing more and more people grab them as they’re shopping,” said Jeremy Becraft, general manager of the store.

The use of compostable straws is on the rise in hopes of keeping  plastic out of waterways. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

But, going strawless is not an option for everyone. 

Those with disabilities or stroke patients need straws for independence or assistance with swallowing.

“Stroke patients can use straws to help with their difficulties with swallowing and lack of coordination,” said occupational therapist graduate student Caitlin Auten. “For children who have cerebral palsy, holding a cup and bringing it to their mouths can be very difficult or impossible, but with straws they can drink independently.” 

Auten said that protecting the environment is “critical” but until hospitals can introduce paper straws, plastic is vital for some people with disabilities.

Mast General Store in Columbia began selling stainless steel straws as an alternative to plastic. Store general manager Jeremy Becraft said that more and more people are coming in to buy them. 

Publico general manager Devin Maes believes that the use of paper straws in the restaurant is a step in the right direction to be more eco-friendly.