In July 2018, Starbucks announced its plans to eliminate single-use plastic straws by 2020. The coffee giant, who currently hands out more than 1 billion of the tubes a year, is to begin the transition in the fall of 2018.
Stores in Seattle and Vancouver will be the first to see the new regime. Many people are applauding the retailer’s decision and say it will be of great benefit to the environment, but some are not so sure.
Starbucks’ Goal is Sustainability
Chief Executive and President of the coffee chain, Kevin Johnson, has commented that the plastic straw phase-out is an important step in his company’s long-term aspiration to offer coffee that is produced and served in sustainable ways.
The no-straw movement has been gathering momentum for some years, and gained mainstream attention in 2015 thanks to a viral video of a sea turtle with one of the offending implements stuck in its nose. The fact that these straws can cause damage to marine life, via ingesting or getting strapped in them, is undeniable. As the plastic breaks down, harmful chemicals can also be released.
Erin Simon, Director of Sustainability Research & Development and Material Science at the World Wildlife Fund, welcomed news of the strategy and said she hoped other corporations would follow Starbucks’ example. Director of the Trash Free Seas programme at Ocean Conservancy, Nicholas Mallos, made similar comments.
Focusing on Eco-Friendly Solutions
Under the new strategy, single-use straws will be replaced with lids that allow drinks to be sipped directly from the cup on all tea, espresso and iced coffee beverages. For Frappuccinos, tubes made of alternative materials will be used. This material could be made from compostable plastic of paper, and would be designed to be completely biodegradable.
Starbucks is the largest retailer to commit to this elimination so far, but it is by no means the only one. Hyatt Hotels plans to stop offering plastic tools to their guests, and McDonald’s will start using paper versions in outlets across the United Kingdom and Ireland in 2019.
All around the world businesses are focusing on going green, and whether it’s swapping driving to a land-based casino for playing online Roulette, recycling, or ditching the straw, it’s never been a better time to give the environment a helping hand.
Single-use straws have also been banned in some Walt Disney World theme parks, as well as Smithsonian Institute museums. And many local governments in the United States have passed laws restricting their use and distribution.
Bio Straws Still Problematic
Making the biodegradable tubes will cost more – and not only in terms of actual money. Their production is at least 5 times more expensive than their plastic counterparts, but the real issue here is that it also takes more fossil fuels and electricity to create.
The harmful effects of conventional straws are avoided, but more is taken from the earth, and more potentially polluting bi-products are created by going this route. In addition, paper products are not as recyclable as plastic ones, so more will have to be created.
A better idea, say some environmentalists, would be to focus on proper disposal. Everyone agrees that these plastic tubes must stop finding their way into the oceans, but care must be taken not to create more problems in solving this one.
Starbucks and other food and beverage retailers are, it could be argued, more interested in the response of their customers than in the long-term impact they are having on the earth. They know that their efforts to reduce single-use straws will be well received, which is expected to help generate more sales.
Whether or not biodegradable drinking tools are more sustainable, as the coffee giant claims is the main goal, remains to be seen. Rather than just changing the products we use, it seems human beings also need to look at changing their behaviour – and making sure they dispose of straws correctly, or buying non-disposable ones for personal use.