Americans use an estimated 500 million plastic straws every day. And while these small pieces of polypropylene can be recycled, they are rarely accepted by recycling centers. “Plastic straws are pretty small and lightweight, so when they’re going through the mechanical sorter, they’re often lost or diverted,” said plastics pollution researcher Sam Athey. Instead, straws usually end up in landfills which can then lead to oceans and beaches. Although no one knows just how many straws currently pollute our waterways, the Ocean Conservancy says that its volunteers have picked up more than 9 million of them over the years.
So given their potentially disastrous impact, environmental advocates have recently called to ban plastic straws from restaurants and cafes. Several cities in Florida and California have already prohibited them, with New York lawmakers also considering outlawing straws from the city’s eateries. And this past month Seattle became the first major city to ban both single-use plastic straws and utensils in restaurants. Not to be outdone by lawmakers in the home of their headquarters, though, Starbucks announced this week that it would phase out the use of plastic straws by 2020.
With more than 28,000 stores worldwide, the coffee chain estimates that its decision will eliminate more than one billions straws annually. While some drinks such as the Frappuccino will continue to come with straws, they will now be made out of either paper or compostable plastic. Starbucks will also introduce a new lid for its cold-cups so that customers won’t be tempted to place a straw into their iced mocha. “By nature, the straw isn’t recyclable and the lid is, so we feel this decision is more sustainable and more socially responsible,” said Chris Milne, Starbucks’ director of packaging sourcing. What’s more, a number of other companies could soon follow the coffee chain’s lead, with brands such as McDonald’s and Alaska Airlines taking measures to reduce their straw usage.
- Why are both companies and local governments looking to reduce their usage of plastic straws?
- Do you think other companies should follow the lead of Starbucks and get rid of plastic straws entirely? Why or why not?