Starbucks announced Monday that it plans to eliminate single-use plastic straws in its more than 28,000 stores worldwide by 2020. Plastic straws will be replaced by recyclable lids that consumers can sip from directly, as well as new straws made from alternative materials.
It’s one of several companies in recent months to ban one-time-use plastics items like straws. Starbucks is the largest food and beverage retailer to have made such a commitment so far, and anticipates it will eliminate more than 1 billion plastic straws from stores each year, according to a statement.
It comes days after Seattle became the first US city to ban plastic straws, requiring all food service businesses to use recyclable or compostable utensils and packaging.
Customers in the company’s hometown of Seattle and nearby Vancouver will be the first to see the strawless lids as they roll out this fall. Phased introductions of the lids will continue through next year in more than 8,000 stores in the US and Canada, and select stores in Asia.
“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,” said Kevin Johnson, president and CEO, in a statement. The company says it’s part of a $10-million commitment to develop fully recyclable and compostable cups.
Plastic straws have been at the center of American dining culture for roughly the last century. Joseph Friedman first invented a flexible drinking straw in the 1930s after watching his daughter struggle to drink a milkshake out of a paper straw. Hospitals were among the first to use plastic straws because they allowed patients to easily drink while in bed, according to a report by National Geographic. Following the economic boom after the Second World War, plastic straws began being produced faster and more easily, making their way into mainstream businesses around the world in the decades that followed.
Today, plastic straws are a top contributor to the more than 8 million tonnes (8.8 million tons) of plastic that makes its way into the ocean every year. An estimated 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws wash ashore on the world’s coastlines annually, while roughly 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the ocean at this very moment, weighing more than 250,000 tonnes (275,000 tons). Estimates suggest plastic in our seas will outweigh fish by 2050.
Plastics are making their way up the food chain as well, and even into the bellies of deep-sea fish. Plastics are found in nearly every body of water and on every continent in the world – traces of plastic have now been found in Antarctica.
While single-use plastic bans like this one are a step in the right direction, it appears society still has quite a long way to go.