The last straw? Paper rapidly replacing plastic, says Edmonton-area distributor

An Edmonton-area distribution company says it can't keep up with the national demand for paper straws.

'Every business that was selling a plastic straw is frantically trying to find a paper one'

Up to a few months ago, Sherwood Park-based Greenmunch was selling paper to niche customers. Now demand has exploded. (Supplied by Phillip Jacobsen )

An Edmonton-area distribution company says it can't keep up with the national demand for paper straws.

A year ago, Sherwood Park-based Greenmunch was supplying about one million paper straws per month to customers across Canada and the United States, says owner Phillip Jacobsen.

For the past few months, the company has been selling about four million. 
Phillip Jacobsen owns Greenmunch, a paper-product company in the Edmonton area. (Phillip Jacobsen)

"Right now, we're turning away a lot of large customers," Jacobsen said Monday in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. 

Jacobsen, whose company works with a Chinese manufacturer which is struggling to meet demand from clients around the world, estimates it could be distributing 40 to 50 million straws per month if it had the capacity. 

"There's just this total global awareness," Jacobsen said. "We just saw a lot of media really, really looking at this issue and I think that was what made it take off." 

Paper straws nothing new

Paper straws are nothing new, said Jacobsen, who remembers using them as a child growing up in the 1970s, before more durable plastic straws took over. 

While the paper straws he distributes are more durable than those of 40 years ago, they're still not going to last all day, Jacobsen said.

"They're really meant for one drink."

When Greenmunch set out supplying paper straws seven years ago, the demand was mostly from niche customers — "forward-thinking businesses,"  Jacobsen said.

Now, it's coming from major companies, he said. 

Most of Greenmunch's are based in Ontario and B.C., but in the past month, there has been more interest from western Canadian businesses, including chain restaurants, Jacobsen said. 

"I think the straw is sort of the first product that is easy to tackle to try to reduce," he said. 

Jacobsen is now preparing for more competition in the paper straw business.

"There's going to be a lot more competitors now," he said. "I know every business that was selling a plastic straw is frantically trying to find a paper one."