Lou wants to convince his client base that switching to PLA and paper straws is the way to go.
He feels that his company has directly impacted the planet in its sales of disposable plastic straws. For him, straws are just a tool, one that has been used for centuries and that will continue to be used.
"Surely I can't stop producing all at once, because this is about the market, not me," he said. "My enterprise has developed based on the market. With the change of perception of plastic pollution around the world, people now can accept straws with higher prices, so I should ride the wave to promote and influence our customers and our distributors to encourage them to use less plastic straws, and use the biodegradable straws instead."
Seeing the change as an opportunity is part of Lou's strategy.
"It can give our enterprise another life. That is, through this transformation, it is possible to open up a new development space for our enterprise, so that we can create more value for society," he said.
As part of trying to create more value, Lou said Soton is more careful with its production, such as in the kind of glue used in its paper straws.
"If you use a paper straw, there's definitely no problem, it will biodegrade. But the paper straw has a lot of problems with its application," he said. "The chemicals used in the production of the paper, the chemicals in the inks on the paper and the glue used to hold the straw together, all need to be regulated.
"The kind of glue as we use is food safe, but a lot of small businesses who try to reduce the cost will use non-edible glue, because the cost of food-safe glue is three to five times more than non-edible glue," he said. "In this way, some small businesses produce paper straws that are actually harmful for humans."
Lou is working on creating standards for paper straws, but they are not as simple as for PP or PLA because of the different glues and inks.
PLA has downsides as well, he said.
From a business owner's perspective, PLA is less shelf-stable and must be treated with more care than PP straws. Sensitive to heat, PLA straws must be transported in the proper conditions so that the product does not begin to deform.
Providing a heat shield for a container ship carrying the PLA straws pushes up the cost, he said.
From an environmental sustainability standpoint, he said PLA straws are not a 100 percent solution, either.
According to Lou, the company's PLA straw will dissolve into carbon dioxide and water under the proper conditions in 45 days. But in less-than-perfect conditions, he admits, the biodegradation process will be very slow.
With requirements of 50-55° C (122-131° F) temperature and humidity greater than 80-90 percent to biodegrade, in reality that means that many of the PLA plastic straws that his clients are buying will probably biodegrade at the same rate as PP, because they are being disposed of in less-than-ideal conditions.
That hasn't stopped his clients from turning to PLA, though. Lou has noticed a trend.
"Customers in the European Union, in particular, and some states in the United States have begun to limit their plastic usage," he said. "But this doesn't mean we have lost the customers with the limit of plastic straws. In fact, after the customer receives information about government restrictions on plastic straws, their first reaction is to come to us to ask what kind of products we can offer in the place of plastic straws."
He said many of his international customers stopped buying PP straws and then converted completely to PLA or paper.
Rather than foreseeing the death of plastic straws, Lou gets a bit visionary and expects the straw will stick around, albeit in a new form. Maybe the common plastic straw will become edible, he suggests.
"This tool [the straw] is still going to be used 100 years from now, straws won't disappear, right?" Lou said. "But 100 years from now, I'm sure the straws will be 100 percent biodegradable, and it won't cause any white pollution, and will be edible, you can even use it as animal feed. We truly hope this is the long-term direction and ultimate goal that we are heading towards with this product."