Tucson company does brisk business making designer glass drinking straws

By Kirshana Guy

In 2011, a nine-year-old boy in Vermont named Milo Cress undertook widely credited research which estimated that Americans use approximately 500 million plastic straws every day.

He did this by simple reporting: he called manufacturers of plastic straws and asked for production estimates. One result was a project called Straw Free, which is part of a movement calling attention to the growing environmental problem of discarded plastic straws in our oceans.

One other result is a growth in eco-friendly alternatives.

Del Hendrixson, owner and founder of I Love Glass Straws, a company in Tucson, said he was inspired to a create and design logoed alternatives to plastic straws after he asked for a straw while at Hotel Congress, a company that made a pledge in 2016 to One Less Straw, a national campaign to eliminate plastic drink straws.

Del Hendrixson at a belt-driven kiln where glass straws are fired

The alternative is reusable glass drinking straws, which have become so popular that Walmart.com listed one line of its standard glass straws as out of stock recently. 

In Tucson, demand is brisk for glass straws with corporate and other designs, and it keeps a company with printers that can produce logos on glass busy. “And our logos are actually printed with liquid glass, so when it is fired it will fuse into the glass so it can never scratch or come off or anything,” Hendrixson said.

The liquid glass inks used by Hendrixson and his staff cost approximately $400 a pound in powder form, but the costs may range based on the color.

Hendrixson said the starting process to customizing glass straws begins with receiving designs from customers online. The second step requires the staff to make a film to expose to the screen, which will then be taken into the print room where multiple lines will be printed on one sheet in a color the customer chooses for their design.

The cost of printing one sheet is approximately $10, and Hendrixson said they can print up to 10 pages in 10 minutes.

“We don’t know anything about blowing glass ourselves, but we can convert glass tubing into straws by cutting them,” said Hendrixson.

Edges being smoothed and rounded for borosilicate straws

The straws arrive at their warehouse near Armory Park in boxes. They may range in width and color, but they all serve one purpose – save the environment by using the customizable Pyrex straws.

The decaling process, as explained by Ricky Segura, the project manager at I Love Glass Straws, begins by fixing the custom printed decals onto wet sponges after they had time to sit and dry on shelves before placing them one inch below one end of the straw. Once the decal is positioned on the straw, a paper towel is used to remove the excess water from the product before it is fired in the kiln.

Segura said they then have a few other steps they must follow to complete the straws, such as annealing the edges of the straws to ensure they are smooth before they are packaged and shipped to their clients.

Ricky Segura, project manager at I Love Glass Straws

Rita Dorsey Boutwell, director of operations at Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson, said Hotel Congress was Del’s first account when they made their first purchase between  July and August of 2018.

“Since we do try to limit our straw usage of our guests, having a reusable option they can purchase once was kind of a no-brainer for us,” Boutwell said. “And having them locally made by someone who has a relationship with the Hotel Congress and Cup Café was definitely an added bonus because we love to support people who support us.”

Boutwell said they also carry the custom straws at their sister restaurant across the street, Maynards Market & Kitchen. Both establishments sell the straws for $9 per straw, and they are currently running a promotion where any guest who brings in a Hotel Congress or Maynards Market & Kitchen reusable straw will receive complimentary iced tea or fountain sodas.