Meet the Trailblazing F&B Spots Ditching Plastic Straws in Guangzhou

By Bryan Grogan, October 18, 2018

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If you find yourself refusing the single-use plastic straw offered to you in 7/11 and Family Mart every time you go in to buy a can of coke, then you are not alone. 

Recently, plastic waste has become one of the hottest issues that restaurants and bars face in China, with the careful use of single-use plastic straws right at the center of the issue. 

Simply getting bums in the seats continues to be a constant struggle for F&B outlets. However, the impact that items such as plastic takeout containers and single-use straws have on the environment has become a prevailing worry in recent months. 

According to a National Geographic article published in June, over one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed each year by the plastic materials that find their way into our oceans. Plastic straws are one of the main culprits, as their small size makes them more difficult to recycle.  

The rise of online takeout companies such as Meituan and Ele.me have resulted in more plastic consumption, as takeout deliveries generally require plastic packaging and arrive in a plastic bag. 

At the start of this year, the Chinese government announced a ban on the import of plastic waste from around the world in a move that is meant to limit the amount of harmful plastic that is coming into the country. And as awareness of the plastic problem grows, restaurants have begun to take a first, fundamental step by introducing more environmentally-friendly straws – a small, but important move in the right direction. 

Australian Kent Highet is a Guangzhou resident who has been making the rounds of the local F&B scene, lobbying for increased awareness of the harmfulness of single-use plastic. An ardent scuba diver, Highet is concerned and befuddled by folk’s unwillingness to change when it comes to the plastic that is polluting our oceans.

“It's a no brainer, why don't people recycle more and use [reusable] shopping bags? I just don't get it; we can all help by doing the right thing,” says Highet. “Everybody I talk to agrees about one-use plastic but they don't all take action.” 

Despite his cynicism regarding people’s lack of action, Highet’s lobbying is beginning to work.

Last month, popular Guangzhou-based eatery Social&Co. introduced biodegradable paper straws as an eco-friendly alternative to single-use straws. Across the Pearl River, at Party Pier, Revolucion Cocktail Bar has introduced reusable bamboo straws. 

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Image via Social & Co.

Revolucion’s bamboo straws are a real winner, being both environmentally friendly and gorgeously lightweight. When we visited on a quiet Tuesday evening last month, we were thrilled to be helping our planet’s oceans all whilst looking stylish in the process. 

Over at The Happy Monk, a popular chain of restaurants in Guangzhou, management made the switch from plastic to paper products over the summer. 

“For me, one of the main things is that we are instilling a sense of environmental importance within the team we employ,” says Jeremy Sargent, proprietor of The Happy Monk restaurant chain. “We have over 200 staff and a lot of them are young. They wrote all about plastic waste in our internal staff publication. It is starting conversations, it is raising awareness, both with our staff and our customers. 

“Some customers have already complained, asking why we aren’t using plastic straws anymore, so there is a conversation there.”

In addition to biodegradable straws, The Happy Monk has also introduced biodegradable takeaway packaging in an attempt to totally reduce their single-use plastic consumption.

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Image via The Happy Monk

In Shenzhen, some establishments are taking a similar tack when it comes to their impact on the planet. Jolly Roger Bar, located in Nanshan District, has introduced reusable metal straws in many of their cocktails. Taylor Chen, manager at the bar, tells us that his team has realized the impact that plastic can have on the environment and have subsequently decided to limit their use of plastic straws. 

Back in Guangzhou, Social&Co’s owner, New Zealand native Aaron McKenzie, told us that he decided to make the switch to reusable straws after seeing just how much waste is created when using plastic straws.

“We go through over 2,000 straws per month for our cocktails, soft drinks and other drinks, so the impact that we have alone seems quite high when you see how many straws are in the bin at the end of a busy night,” says McKenzie. 

Speaking about the effect that small changes like this can have on the F&B industry, Aaron told us: “I guess the impact of videos circulating on social media, which then started people talking, instigated the thought process of a move away from plastic to something a little more environmentally friendly.”

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Image via The Happy Monk

One of the major issues that outlets such as Aaron’s face is finding a reliable and cheap retailer of environmentally-friendly products. 

“When we bought biodegradable bags from an advertised supplier they all fell apart, and when we questioned them, they told us that even if a supplier in China tells you they have this type of product, it doesn't always mean that they are telling the truth,” said McKenzie. “That was a shock. So he had to make us all new bags, which weren't biodegradable.”

According to McKenzie, for his business, straws are just one part of the overall impact that the F&B industry in China has on the environment. “When I opened my eyes more to daily eating habits, I saw there is much more going on than just straws.”

With that being said, Social&Co. is also looking to change its approach to takeaway packaging, taking steps to introduce more reusable and environmentally-friendly packaging as demand for these changes increases.

“After about two months of researching and looking at all options, we decided to go for paper straws starting from mid September. But also we will look at more reusable and environmentally-friendly takeaway packaging as we see an increase in this demand as well,” said McKenzie. “That should be by October once we track down the suppliers who are actually creating these recycled products.”

[Cover photo via Kate Townsend/Unsplash]

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