Starbucks eliminating plastic straws a ‘good step but a small one,’ environmentalists say

Published On July 10, 2018 | By caitlynclancey | Business, Food, News

Starbucks plans to eliminate single use plastic straws from all its locations within the next two years and is replacing them with strawless lids. (CAITLYN CLANCEY)

Caitlyn Clancey

Starbucks announced it will eliminate plastic straws from all locations by 2020 but some environmentalists say this is only a small positive step in plastic reduction.

The Starbucks Coffee Company of Seattle, Wash., announced Monday its plan to stop offering plastic straws at its more than 28,000 licensed stores around the world.

But Belinda Waymouth, director at the U.S.-based 5 Gyres research institute for reducing plastics pollution, said plastic straws are a problem, but not the biggest plastics problem the planet faces.

“Unfortunately, straws are not that much of an issue in the big plastic picture,” she said. “An estimated 2,000 tons (1,814 tonnes) of them are getting into the ocean every year, which sounds like a lot, but when you consider the total amount of plastic making its way into the ocean is anywhere between four million (3.62 million tonnes) to 14 million tons (12.7 million tonnes), it’s really not.”

Waymouth praised Starbuck’s decision for grabbing people’s attention and raising awareness about plastic waste reduction but believes the strawless lid isn’t the best solution.

“It’s a good step but a small one,” she said. “The bigger problem here is the sippy cup lid that’s usurping straws is also made from plastic.

“While we are all for encouraging big corporations like Starbucks doing the right thing and know that often these changes happen incrementally, we really need a drastic reduction in plastic use immediately,” Waymouth said.

“The move will eliminate more than one billion plastic straws per year from Starbuck’s stores,” Tim Gallant, the company’s senior communications manager, told Humber News. “Customers in Seattle and Vancouver will be the first to see the strawless lids implemented, starting this fall, with phased rollouts within the U.S. and Canada to follow.”

Starbucks explained in its statement the strawless lids will become the standard for all iced coffee, tea and espresso beverages the company serves. It also described this as a movement that builds upon a $10 million commitment to developing a fully recyclable and compostable global cup solution.


“For our partners and customers, this is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways,” Kevin Johnson, president and chief executive officer for Starbucks, said in the statement.

Starbucks is the largest food and beverage company to eliminate plastic straws, the press release said. Currently the strawless lids are available in more than 8,000 stores in North America, including locations in Toronto, although customers still have the option of requesting a plastic straw.

The statement included quotes from both the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program who praised Starbucks for its decision to phase out single-use plastic straws.

“Plastic straws that end up in our oceans have a devastating effect on species,” Erin Simon, director of sustainability research & development and material science at WWF said. “As we partner with Starbucks in waste reduction initiatives … we hope others will follow in their footsteps.”

Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, agreed.

“With eight million metric tonnes of plastic entering the ocean every year, we cannot afford to let industry sit on the sidelines, and we are grateful for Starbucks’ leadership in in this space,” he said.

Starbucks explained the company’s movement “has been gaining tremendous momentum globally, with consumers showing increased concern for the greater issue of waste, of which straws is just a part.”

The strawless lids has appeared at various Starbucks in Toronto, including the Humber College North campus location.

Student Sarah Harrington said she didn’t realize she could order her beverage with a strawless lid but would have if she had known if was an option. She also said she’s happy with the elimination of straws.

“I definitely like feeling like I’m helping the planet,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter much that there’s no straw anymore. Now you drink it like you would a hot drink, like it’s basically the same lid.”

Waymouth said she believes there’s much more Starbucks can do to change their trash footprint, which she said is huge, particularly in the U.S.

“As a big corporation, they’re in a unique position to be leaders in sustainability,” she said. “If they really upped their eco game and encouraged the use of reusable cups with a cash inventive in every store, that would be a game changer.

“There’s a U.K. coffee company that only serves coffee to customers who bring their own cups,” Waymouth said. “If Starbucks did something revolutionary like that, it would change the whole conversation.”

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