San Francisco’s planning to ban plastic straws — and that could spell trouble for the city’s boba tea shops.
Boba tea, also known as bubble tea, has little tapioca balls at the bottom that are sucked up with a large straw — bigger than what you would normally find at restaurants or coffee shops. The tea shops are ubiquitous and scattered throughout San Francisco and the rest of California.
The ordinance would prevent vendors from using plastic straws, stirrers and other items that can’t be recycled properly because they’re too small, according to the Associated Press. If the city passes the ban later this month, it would go into effect in July 2019.
San Francisco-based bubble tea chain Boba Guys backs the city ordinance because it aligns with the company’s commitment to sustainability, co-owner Andrew Chau told the San Francisco Chronicle.
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Chau told the Chronicle that they found a straw supplier that could make degradable plastic straws out of polylactic acid, but was then told polylactic acid didn’t comply with the ordinance. There are three other straw possibilities — but none of them currently have available straws.
Other boba tea shop owners are running into the same problem.
“I’ve looked into multiple manufacturers who actually make eco-friendly straws, but the problem is they don’t make boba straws or straws that are wide enough,” Emil DeFrancesco, founder of Steap Tea Bar, told CBS.
Reusable boba straws are cost-prohibitive — costing $1 per straw, according to GrubStreet. Loliware, a United States-based startup, has plans to make resuable boba straws that would comply with San Francisco’s ordinance, but they wouldn’t be available till next year, according to Grubstreet and the Chronicle.
Seattle became the first major U.S. city to ban plastic straws earlier this month. California cities, including San Luis Obispo, Berkeley, Davis and Malibu, have proposed or considered similar restrictions on single-use plastics.
Boba tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s — and the island has plans to eradicate plastic straws by 2020, with the ultimate goal of eliminating all disposable plastic utensils by 2030, according to GrubStreet and the Taiwan News.