July 13, 2018 8:00 am

Some straws harm environment less, but cost more: Alberta distributor

Plant-based straws replace plastic ones at Le Chien Noir restaurant.

Mike Postovit / Corus Entertainment
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Ahead of this weekend’s last straw challenge between Calgary and Edmonton restaurants, an Edmonton-area supplier says he’s seen his business triple in the last five years because of the growing demand for biodegradable straws.

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Al Shimoda of Earth Friendly Distributors figures his straws cost two cents each, which is somewhere between two and three times more expensive than the plastic straws bars and restaurants are trying to get rid of.  Cities like Vancouver and Seattle are banning their use, and others are looking into following suit.

“It is more, but as demand increases, the cost will go down,” Shimoda said on Thursday. His straws are made of sugar cane waste or corn. “[Demand has been growing] since I’ve been in [the business] for the last 10 years. I’ve seen the cost gradually going down, especially since more manufacturers are getting into it.”

The Calgary versus Edmonton challenge this weekend is aimed at seeing watering holes go straw-free. Shimoda has already been fielding calls about supplying a new inventory.

“That’s why the bars have contacted me about the cocktail straws, the little black ones that are compostable. Those are quite in demand right now.”

READ MORE: The Last Straw Challenge: Alberta single-use plastic

Watch below: Waste Free Edmonton has challenged bars and restaurants in Calgary and Edmonton to get rid of single-use plastic straws for a weekend. Sean Stepchuk explained more about the initiative on July 10, 2018.

These can be safely thrown out and they’ll break down within a couple of months as opposed to plastic, which will stick around landfills for hundreds of years.

Earth Friendly Distributors supplies the Edmonton Heritage Festival, and is getting a couple of calls a week from potential new customers. According to Shimoda, business is booming, citing a recent deal with the Shaw Conference Centre and PCL Construction.

“PCL Construction is one of my new customers. So people are really starting to realize the importance of it I think, and not only from the restaurant perspective, but also from the office perspective.”

Sean Stepchuk is with Waste Free Edmonton which organized the last straw challenge. He told Global News the five locations in the Sherlock Holmes Hospitality Group saved 20,000 straws a week, and said O’Byrne’s Irish Pub figures they’re saving $1,700 a year. As an industry, Stepchuk said 57 million straws are used every day across Canada.

READ MORE: Edmonton restaurants join plastic straw ban movement, amid lack of committal from PM

Those kinds of numbers have Shimoda wondering about the potential of change coming to fast-food locations.

“It’ll be interesting to see what they do because they obviously manufacture their own products, so they’re probably part of the reason why it’s such a delay in getting product. It’s because they’re putting a rush on to switch over to their own systems to go compostable.”

Shimoda figures the rush will die down at the end of summer when demand tapers off.

It’s peak time for Earth Friendly and its compostable plates, cutlery and straws as three big Edmonton festivals are coming up: the Heritage Festival in three weeks, the Folk Festival the weekend after that and the Fringe Festival in five weeks.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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