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Starbucks hops on the bandwagon and eliminates plastic straws

The eco-friendly coffee chain’s decision is part of a growing movement to end the use of disposable plastics worldwide.

Starbucks will eliminate its use of plastic straws worldwide by 2020.
Starbucks will eliminate its use of plastic straws worldwide by 2020.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Starbucks says it will eliminate all plastic straws from its 28,000 stores around the world by 2020, citing the threats they pose to oceans. The coffee chain said on Monday that it has invented “strawless lids” and “alternative-material straws” that will save an estimated 1 billion plastic straws from being thrown out from its stores each year.

This type of lid that does not require the use of a straw is currently found in 8,000 stores across North America and its availability has been expanded to east Asian countries. A global rollout of the eco-friendly products will come later in the year.

“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,” Starbucks CEO and President Kevin Johnson said.

Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, commended the move as a “a shining example of the important role that companies can play in stemming the tide of ocean plastic.”

Starbucks promotes its ethical and eco-friendly practices and cites its “long history in sustainability.”

The company, which buys 5 percent of the global supply of Arabica beans, announced in 2015 that it “ethically sourced” 99 percent of its coffee. The coffee purveyor has enacted other policies to reduce its environmental impact and appeal to younger, socially conscious consumers. This includes its decision to charge extra money for paper cups in London — a practice which will expand across the UK later this year.

The movement for a plastic-free sip

The plastic straw ban is having a moment, and Starbucks is by no means the first to hop on the bandwagon. The organization was born and bred in the city of Seattle. The mayor there announced a limited ban on disposable plastics — straws and cutlery — that went into effect on July 1.

New York has also proposed legislation to ban plastic straws in the city by 2020, and Malibu, California; Miami Beach; and Fort Myers, Florida; and other cities have similar efforts in the works. Vox’s Radhika Viswanathan explained the movement to ban plastic straws:

There’s also a trending hashtag, #StopSucking. Chelsea Clinton, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Russell Crowe, Tom Brady, Sonam Kapoor, and Tom Felton have all pledged to “just say no” when handed a plastic straw.

SeaWorld recently joined a growing list of organizations — including the White Sox, food service provider Bon Appétit Management Company, and Alaska Airlines — that have implemented plastic straw bans in the US.

But Starbucks, one of the largest buyers of disposable plastic straws in the US, is a significant new participant in this plastic-free drive. And this could be just the beginning of something larger. While straws aren’t the biggest plastic monster to defeat, activists believe that eliminating the worldwide use of disposable straws could kick off a wider conversation about plastic use in general.

Viswanathan continued:

“Our straw campaign is not really about straws,” said Dune Ives, the executive director of Lonely Whale, the organization that led the straw ban movement in Seattle. “It’s about pointing out how prevalent single-use plastics are in our lives. Putting up a mirror to hold us accountable. We’ve all been asleep at the wheel.”

The focus on eliminating disposable plastics comes at a time when threats to the environment are immense. Studies have found that about 71 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of turtles have some form of plastic in their stomachs. Marine creatures have a 50 percent mortality rate when they ingest any form of plastic.

Starbucks is at the forefront of a movement that will work to cull contributions to the 8 million metric tons of plastic already in the ocean. And while banning straws is only the beginning, it’s at least a start.