Plastic straws are being phased out and soon will become a thing of the past. I will now have an “I remember story” to pass down to the next generation. I remember… always receiving a straw with my drink until one day I visited a taco joint called Broken English for cocktails. I asked for a straw and was told they stopped carrying them. Me and my perfectly placed lipstick were hurt and didn’t understand why. At first I thought why are restaurants being so cheap, but then I found out there was an eco-friendly movement behind the absence of the plastic straw.
If you voted in Cook County back in November of 2018 you noticed there was an advisory referendum related to banning plastic straws on the ballot. 55% of people voted YES to banning plastic straws within city limits. As of 1/1/2019 Washington DC has banned plastic straws and Stirrers in city businesses and restaurants. Seattle already banned use of plastic straws beginning in July of 2018 and more cities (such as Chicago) will eventually follow. Even if a particular city hasn’t banned the use of plastic straws yet, some businesses are already phasing them out. Starbucks plans to phase out plastic straws by 2020. Other well known businesses such as McDonald’s (U.K. and Ireland) and Alaska Airlines will follow suit in phasing out plastic straws.
Before we start discussing alternative options to plastic, you may be wondering why this is such a hot topic all of a sudden. In general plastic is polluting the world’s oceans. As many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches. (nationalgeographic.com). Straws have become the focus of the plastic elimination because it’s doesn’t involve a drastic change in most human-beings lives. Just being unsightly isn’t the problem regarding plastic pollution in oceans. It takes decades/centuries for plastic to disintegrate. While plastic is deteriorating it releases hazardous chemicals into the water. Hungry animals that can’t distinguish between plastic and food can eat the plastic (which does not digest in their bodies) causing them to not be able to eat and starve to death. Furthermore, those of us eating those animals may experience harmful effects in the future.
So what’s the alternative for those of us not wanting to pollute the ocean, but still love to use a straw every now and again???? Paper straws are now the hot commodity! Quality paper straws will not disintegrate or get soggy in drinks. They’re also naturally biodegradable and compostable.
I interviewed former Chicago NFL Bears player turned Entrepreneur Ryan G. Mundy on the paper straw movement. Ryan is the Co-Founder of SWZLE, an ECO friendly drinking straw company. SWZLE offers stylish stainless steel or reusable paper straws. Check out my interview with Ryan below as we discuss the importance of these products aiding in the movement of a sustainable environment.
Tavi J. One on One Interview with Ryan G. Mundy
(Co-Founder of SWZLE)
How did you get started in the straw industry?
I retired from the NFL in July of 2016 and I received my MBA from the University of Miami School of Business. I knew I was going to go into business, but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I started hitting the pavement and talking to some folks about how things work. Ultimately I got the entrepreneurial bug internally and decided to dive into venture capital and entrepreneurship.
I was meeting with a bunch of local entrepreneurs once or twice a month. The other Co-founder of SWZLE was one of those people. He kicked this idea to me almost a year ago now. We explored other opportunities and didn’t move on it immediately, but that’s when it first got on my radar. I started to become aware of what was going on with the whole eco-friendly movement. From there I began to see a whole tidal wave of news articles and ultimately large corporations like Starbucks started to announce plastic straw bans. So I knew it was happening and it was happening in a big wave. When you ban something or move away from something, ultimately you move towards something. I knew there needed to be an alternative. I thought there was an interesting business opportunity around that while also doing good for the environment.
SWZLE provides reusable stainless steel straws and paper straws. I’ve never seen anyone actually carry around a stainless steel straw but, are those doing pretty well in the market?
Yes, it’s been received very well, particularly in California. We did a lot of press and advertising out there. To your point we’re very aware it’s a new behavior and we’re one of the first companies to market this great product of consumer stylish stainless steel straws. That’s exciting!! We have an opportunity to be trailblazers with our consumer offering. An interesting parallel would be think back to 15 years ago when folks weren’t necessarily carrying around water bottles with them. Now you see pretty much everyone has one. That behavior is now common place. So hopefully will fall in that same category. We’re excited about the consumer opportunity. To your point when you went to Broken English and they told you they didn’t have straws, what did you do? SWZLE is the solution. Even furthermore I think people with disabilities is a community that has been overlooked with this issue. How would you go about consuming your drink?
So awhile back I went to another restaurant called Clever Rabbit in Wicker Park and they were using paper straws. It was my first paper straw experience. I also have a friend that’s a pastry chef that throws fine dining dinner parties and she uses metal straws when serving her cocktails. I can tell individuals and establishments are quickly moving away from plastic straws. Is the paper straw/ reusable straw market competitive right now?
Yes and No. This whole tidal wave of banning plastic straws caught a lot of people off guard and it happen very quickly. When folks were starting to announce plastic straw bans some of the existing paper straw suppliers just didn’t have the capacity to fulfill the demand. That’s when we saw a massive opportunity to step in and our value was we could supply your straws with quicker efficiency, higher volumes, and with customization. The market has become a little more competitive like any other commodities industry. We will face competition, but I do think we are carving out a nice piece of the market.
What sets SWZLE apart? I know ZWZLE paper straws use Kraft paper material. What else sets your straws apart? Is it the material/design?
So I think a lot of these restaurants you mention, especially boutique type restaurants, are looking to move away from plastic straws. When the businesses transition they want some customization. We received this as feedback. Whether their business name or logo is on the wrapper or on the straw itself. SWZLE has the capacity to do both. To print logo’s and watermarks on our straws. That’s something that you can’t get from your traditional food service provider. Most can’t provide you that level of customization. Speaking about quality we believe very strongly in the quality of our paper straws. I would put it up against any paper straw in the market place. The longest I used one of our paper straws was 2 hours. I feel really good about our quality. With that said we have to continue to hit the pavement and preach the gospel. We’re going to be rolling out some content and marketing that really speaks to that because that’s pretty much the number one question we get “What sets our paper straws apart.”
Are paper straws supposed to hold up with any type of drink….let’s say slushies or milkshakes?
Yes they’re supposed to hold up. At the end of the day it’s still paper and there will be a level of the liquid affecting the material somewhat. But in my experience with SWZLE paper straws it hasn’t provided a problem with water, soda, milkshakes, or a green juice. I’ve used SWZLE straws across various liquids. We do offer wider diameter straws for instances like milkshakes or slushies to make your drinking experience smoother.
Are there any other business opportunities in the future you’re looking into that deal with the eco-friendly environmental type issues?
Absolutely. I think straws are just the beginning. “We,” meaning businesses in general, have to start somewhere. The infrastructure isn’t there yet to support a massive widespread movement against all plastics, but I think we’re moving in the right direction. We have some products we’re excited to roll out over the next six to eight months that will be around the straw and along those lines. I think it will be interesting to introduce more reusable products.
You’re a family man with children. What ways can we teach kids to be environmentally friendly at a young age?
I think this message is starting to permeate all the way down to our children. One of the cartoons my kids were watching spoke specifically about the amount of plastic waste that goes into the ocean. Teaching kids to recycle and the importance of recycling is a must. Ultimately in my household I’m very mindful about educating my children on eliminating waste. For example, if they don’t need a paper towel then don’t grab a paper towel. We have a recycling bin and I make sure they know what to recycle and what not to recycle. I strongly believe that on an individual level and collectively if we combine all those things and everyone does there part we will be able to move the needle.
Clearly this is a big movement. Especially in the hospitality industry, but SWZLE is working on consumers and various industries, correct?
Correct. I don’t plan on focusing solely on the food and hospitality industry, but across the business landscape in general. ALL corporations, fortune 500, middle market type companies….Everybody needs to have some sort of stance on what their environmental and social responsibilities are. This is a massive movement moving forward. For me this is really exciting because there’s no law out there that says “You can’t do good, but also do well.” You can operate a successful and profitable business, but you can also do a lot of good for people and the world as a whole at the very same time.
That’s a good question! Hmm…I’m a Chicagoan that everyone should know because I’m a young entrepreneur looking to do good, but also do well. In my career of venture capitalism/investments I’m one of the very few people that look like me in the industry. It’s important to me to be a trailblazer and also show others you can come from a different background, like my background in sports, and transition into an industry and make waves. I carry that banner very proudly.
Want to learn more about SWZLE? Head to www.swzle.com
Follow Ryan G. Mundy on Twitter @RyanGMundy
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