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Taiwan, bubble tea and the indispensable straw

Alternative to plastic throwaways: Carry one's own washable sipping cylinder

A variety shop in New Taipei City feeds demand for reusable straws among Taiwanese who worry about plastic's impact on the environment but do not want to give up their bubble teas.

TAIPEI -- Taiwanese imbibers of bubble tea and other cold drinks are beginning to carry their own reusable straws.

A department store in downtown Taipei has all kinds of straws -- thick ones for slurping up tapioca balls and straws shaped like a spoon on one end for shaved ice.

Thick straws are essential for bubble milk tea and sweetened cold tea with nata de coco.

Yang Wen-Xuan, 27, who was shopping for a stainless steel straw, was glad to see that people who are saying no to plastic throwaways have a wide selection with which to indulge their environmental awareness.

Straws are essential in semitropical-to-tropical Taiwan, where tea shops such as 50 Lan and CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice draw crowds seeking respites from the island's heat and humidity.

But plastic straws may be on their way out. In February, Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration announced a plan to ban plastic straws, bags and utensils by 2030.

About four months later, at a Group of Seven summit in Canada, leaders of the leading industrialized nations adopted the Ocean Plastics Charter, which calls for replacing plastic throwaway straws with reusable or recyclable drinking tubes by the same year.

Once this charter was adopted, Taiwan's EPA said it would ban the use of plastic straws at public facilities and restaurants by July 2019.

With all this momentum, department stores and other retailers in Taiwan began to devote floor space to recyclable and reusable straws.

Quan Chang, a variety shop in New Taipei City, in northern Taiwan, has its own straw brand, QC. Its straws are made of glass, stainless steel and titanium. Some QC straws have turtle and rabbit ornaments.

The company sells about 500 to 1,000 straws a month. Straight stainless steel straws go for 170 New Taiwan dollars ($5.57). Titanium straws sell for NT$686. Many customers also buy thin, brushlike cleaning utensils.

Chen Yi-Jie, co-founder of QC, said her company got into the straw business in 2013, nudged by a growing public awareness of the environmental harm plastic is causing and of the ill health effects plastic can have on children.

But many straw buyers are simply jumping aboard a trend and end up not using and reusing their new sipping cylinders.

Chen said she wants to sell straws to people who want to take good care of them and don't mind the hassle of cleaning the chutes with the brushlike utensils, then drying them off.

That said, some Taiwanese might be ready to take this step. Many already bring their own stainless steel chopsticks to restaurants.

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