From seaweed to sugarcane, companies race to find the next great plastic replace

Plastic production in 2016 equaled the weight of 4 million blue whales.

Craig Graffius began selling his handmade glass straws at farmers markets. Now, Eco-Glass Straws, founded in the small town of Hood River, Oregon, has upgraded to a high-tech machine that pumps out 2,000 straws an hour, 16 times faster than the handmade process.

Even with the advanced technology, he still has to turn away international orders for millions of straws.

“Literally overnight, our company just blew up,” Graffius said.

Plastic production in 2016 equaled the weight of 4 million blue whales.

The surge in alternative, reusable products is a reaction to increased scrutiny surrounding plastics, and plastic straws in particular. Small businesses are scrambling to meet the demand from consumers as well as industries and local governments.

Starbucks is replacing its straws with recyclable plastic sipping lids. McDonald’s is testing out a switch from plastic to paper straws in some U.S. locations. And many cities are banning businesses from using plastic straws altogether. California became the first state to do so this month, though it makes an exception for customers who ask for them because some people with disabilities need straws to drink.

To be clear, straws are only a tiny portion of the total plastic the world produces and throws away. They have become targets because they are easier to eliminate than other plastics. They fall through the cracks, literally, because they are too small to go through the recycling process. And videos showing straws harming animals have gone viral.

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