To straw or not to straw? That was the question!
On Monday, Starbucks officially announced that they would be committing to a new environmental initiative that seeks to eliminate single-use plastic straws in all of their locations world-wide by the year 2020. In place of their signature green straws, the company will be providing strawless lids (which have been compared to ‘adult sippy cups’) or alternative-material options in their more than 28,000 locations.
The Seattle-based coffee conglomerate is leading the charge as the largest food and drink retailer to pledge a commitment of this scale. They estimate that over one billion plastic straws will be terminated from their stores per year. The company has drafted, developed, and produced a strawless lid that will become the norm for all of their iced and espresso beverages. It is currently available in more than eight-thousand locations across the United States and Canada. The lid is also being tested in international markets including Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and China. As well, the chain will be offering straws sourced from alternative materials – such as compostable plastic or paper – for blended beverages or for those customers who specially request or need a straw, so fear not iced-coffee and frappuccino lovers, you are covered!
Kevin Johnson, President and CEO of Starbucks, claims that this is a significant feat for both the company’s partners and its customers as they strive to create a more sustainable, environmentally conscious business. Beginning this fall, patrons in Vancouver and Seattle will be among the first to experience the strawless lids, with phased rollouts across the United States and Canada scheduled to follow. Europe will see the first global deployment of the new lids as they arrive in select stores in the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom. This will coincide with the market expansion of a 5p paper cup charge in 950 stores to further encourage reusability.
Seattle has recently been added to the list of cities to completely ban plastic straws and utensils, with Vancouver aiming to be the first Canadian city to do so in the fall of 2019. With environmental issues and awareness being a primary concern for younger generations, this shift is more than likely to gain support. Similarly, with immense pressure being placed on businesses to eliminate single-use plastic straws due to the negative impact they have on the world’s marine life and oceans, the company is moving in the right direction.
Starbucks has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund for this waste reduction initiative to tackle the issue of material waste generation, with the hope that other businesses will follow suit. According to Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy Trash Free Seas Program, approximately eight million metric tons of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans every year. Environmental causes such as The Last Plastic Straw, a project of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, dedicate themselves solely to the purpose of eliminating single-use plastic at the source, citing that eighty to ninety percent of marine debris found in the ocean is made from plastic.
Why are plastic straws so bad in the first place?
The primary issue with plastic is that it is not biodegradable. Instead, it photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, marking it much easier for both land and marine animals to ingest. Even when recycled properly, only a very small percentage will actually make it to getting recycled.
Unfortunately, plastic can only be recycled once – which leads to the contribution and creation of massive landfills. Landfills have three main issues associated with them: toxins, leachate, and greenhouse gas. Many materials that end up as waste contain toxic substances which, over time, leak into our soil and groundwater, becoming environmental threats for years. Leachate is the liquid generated when waste decomposes in a landfill and water seeps through. This liquid is incredibly noxious and can pollute waterways and groundwater, as well as land. Finally, when food scraps, green waste, and plastics put into landfills is compacted down and covered, it removes oxygen. Eventually, this causes those materials to break down in an anaerobic process which releases methane, a greenhouse gas around twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide. Besides the implications of global warming and climate change that results from its release into our atmosphere, methane is also incredibly flammable, which can be very dangerous if concentrations of it build up.
We operate in a consumerist culture that relies heavily on the goods and services that companies such as Starbucks provide. It is so refreshing to see the Mother of all coffee chains take the initiative to be more environmentally conscious in the way they conduct themselves.
The next time you order an iced frappuccino, we hope you take a minute to think about where your waste will end up in the long run.