Plastic straws are becoming a no-go area for diners across the world. This is good news. There have been various steps around the globe working towards banning plastic straws. Several US cities, most notably Seattle and Miami Beach, have banned plastic straws.
The biggest of the single-use plastic bans so far has been the European Parliament voting for a complete ban on single-use plastic. The plastic straw ban applies across members of the EU and will be rolled out by 2025. EU MPs passed the vote of 571 in favor to 53 against.
“A victory for our oceans, for the environment and for future generations.”
Frédérique Ries, the MEP responsible for the bill and Belgian Politician.
It's pretty simple, really. Disposable plastic straws are, in many ways, the ultimate throw-away item; we use them once and discard them. For sure, they are merely the tip of the plastic iceberg. However, since our early use of plastic straws, they've become something of the poster child of our wasteful consumption of single-use plastics. It's certainly no bad thing that plastic straw bans help to raise awareness of the bigger problem.
The environmental impact of plastic straws is well documented. Plastic straws often blow out of landfills or bins into nature as a result of their lightweight — Beach clean-ups record plastic straws as the 7th most collected items.
They've also been called "gateway" plastic. And perhaps this is the best answer to why plastic straw bans are happening. If we can encourage people far and wide to switch to more eco-friendly straws or reduce their use entirely, then great. Akin to plastic bag bans. simply, each less straw in our oceans is a good thing.
Further, the growing movement to reduce plastic waste is supported by changing behavior and the increasing acceptance and support of single-use plastics bans. Simply carrying reusable straws is a simple thing you can do to help prevent plastic waste. It might just be a start in many ways, but it's a worthwhile one.
In the UK, the government announced in October 2018 plans to ban the sale and distribution of plastic straws in food service establishments and supermarkets. Due to be implemented sometime before 2020, the ban is currently in the consultation phase.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:
“Our precious oceans and the wildlife within need urgent protection from the devastation throw-away plastic items can cause.
In England, we are taking world-leading action with our ban on microbeads, and thanks to the public’s support have taken over 15 billion plastic bags out of circulation with our 5p charge.
I commend retailers, bars and restaurants that have already committed to removing plastic straws and stirrers. But we recognise we need to do more. Today we step-up our efforts to turn the tide on plastic pollution and ensure we leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it.”
The ban will encourage businesses, including those both producing and buying plastic packaging, to consider compostable alternatives. Meanwhile, these moves count significantly toward eliminating the wastefulness of single-use plastics, marine litter, pollution, and their resulting harm.
Of course, the full force of any ban on single-use plastic coming into play takes time. And whereas we might miss out on bendable straws, our planet will ultimately thank us.
There's a move by companies and organizations to reduce the use of environmentally harmful plastic straws. We can all play a role in encouraging restaurants, businesses, and those that continue to use plastic straws to make a change by asking for non-plastic straws.
Mounting awareness, pressure, and consumer advocacy to reduce our plastic waste are motivating companies producing and selling plastic to act. Here's a selection of those companies that have either already phased out plastic straws or committed to doing so:
In May 2018, the worldwide chain announced it was calling time on Plastic Straws. With 894000 rooms in 109 countries, this is a significant step.
Simon Vincent, EVP EMEA, said:
“As a leading global hospitality company, we have a huge responsibility to act as stewards of our natural resources and support the communities in which we operate. Through our corporate responsibility strategy, Travel with Purpose, we are constantly looking for new ways to reduce our environmental impact. Extending a ban on plastic straws across our managed portfolio is an important move in the right direction, and one which we are committed to building on in the coming years.”
Hilton will remove plastic straws from 650 of its managed properties by the end of 2018. The chain has committed to cutting its global environmental impact in half by 2030.
Marriot operates well-known hotel brands, including W Hotels and the Ritz Carlton. The chain has committed to banning plastic straws worldwide by July 2019. The company claims that the move could eliminate the use of more than 1 billion plastic straws per year and about a quarter of a billion stirrers.
Arne Sorenson, President, and CEO, says:
“Removing plastic straws is one of the simplest ways our guests can contribute to plastic reduction when staying with us – something they are increasingly concerned about and are already doing in their own homes. We are committed to operating responsibly and – with over one million guests staying with us every night – we think this is a powerful step forward to reducing our reliance on plastics.”
With 5400 hotels in nearly 100 countries, Intercontinental has committed to banning plastic straws globally by the end of 2019. Their press release claims that the removal of straws will result in a volume equivalent to 10500 kilometers were the straws are laid end to end.
Keith Barr, CEO, Says:
“IHG is in almost 100 countries and we touch the lives of millions of people each day. This gives us a responsibility to protect the environment and an opportunity to make a real difference. There is always more we can do to minimise waste, but the work we’re doing to reduce single-use plastic is a powerful example of how we can come together with guests, owners and colleagues to drive positive change.”
In July 2018 shared the story of the design and creation of their strawless lid for cold drinks. The task was to showcase the frothy foam of a new drink, "Nitro Coffee." The design was developed over several weeks for a single store in Seattle back in 2016. Only later did its impact on single-use plastic become part of Starbucks' global move to more sustainable packaging.
After this development, in July 2018, Starbucks announced that phase out plastic straws worldwide by 2020. In their place is the successor to the Nitro Coffe lid, a recyclable strawless lid designed by Emily Alexander. This commitment is said to eliminate more than 1 billion straws a year.
Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas program, says:
“Starbucks’ decision to phase out single-use plastic straws is a shining example of the important role that companies can play in stemming the tide of ocean plastic. With eight million metric tons of plastic entering the ocean every year, we cannot afford to let industry sit on the sidelines.”
In June 2018, Mcdonalds' UK confirmed a phased rollout of paper straws to all of its 1361 restaurants to be completed in 2019 in a move toward a total ban, replacing plastic with paper straws across all aspects of its food service.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:
“Congratulations to McDonald’s on making this significant contribution to help our natural environment. We all have a responsibility to our environment and this simple yet effective initiative is a fine example to other large businesses. McDonald’s has made a significant investment in UK manufacturing to produce an alternative to plastic, showing British businesses are taking a global lead.
“We want more companies to say no to unnecessary single-use plastics. Through our 25 Year Environment Plan, we have committed to eliminating avoidable plastic and we will continue to take decisive action to protect our precious environment.”
Nearly half a million people have signed a petition by action group SumOfUs asking the food chain to ban plastic straws. In May 2018, shareholders rejected banning plastic straws, with just 7.65% voting in favor.
"We continue to work to find a more sustainable solution for plastic straws globally. In the meantime, we have adopted compostable straws in certain markets to meet regulations while we work with packaging experts to develop a planet-friendly, cost-effective answer for all McDonald’s restaurants."
Wetherspoons operates 900 pub outlets across the UK. Plastic straws were removed entirely and replaced with biodegradable alternatives in December 2017.
Chief Executive John Hutson said:
“These changes are part of an overall commitment from the company to reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste produced. We believe that Wetherspoon pub-goers will welcome this."
Pret a Manger is a UK-based sandwich chain found on almost every high street. With 450 stores across nine countries, Pret is also acting. In 2018 the chain introduced a 50p discount for customers bringing their own reusable cups in for a Pret coffee.
Walt Disney himself said
“Conservation isn’t just the business of a few people. It’s a matter that concerns all of us.”
Across Disney's parks, they have committed to banning plastic straws by mid-2019.
Dr. Mark Penning, VP, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks, writes:
“The Walt Disney Company will eliminate single-use plastic straws and plastic stirrers at all owned and operated locations across the globe, amounting to a reduction of more than 175 million straws and 13 million stirrers annually.”
In 2018 the cruise company, with over 50 ships, rolled out a policy of "straws on request."
At the start of 2019, the fleet will become free of plastic straws.
Richard Fain, Chairman, and CEO, says:
“Healthy oceans are vital to the success of our company. For over 25 years, our Save the Waves program has guided us to reduce, reuse, and recycle everything we can. Eliminating single-use plastics is another step in that program.”
In November 2018, the company's press release stated that it is moving to eliminate plastic straws and stirrers. The airline is said to be replacing them with sustainable and environmentally friendly bamboo.
Jill Surdek, VP, Flight Services, says:
“We're very excited and proud to share this initiative with our team members and customers. We’re cognizant of our impact on the environment and we remain committed to doing our part to sustain the planet for future generations of travellers.”
A UK supermarket chain committed in January 2018 to eliminate plastic packaging from its own label products by 2023.
In late 2017 the company stopped selling plastic straws entirely.
If there are other examples of banning plastic straws that should be included in this list, please let us know in the comments below.
Plastic straws are only a tiny part of our plastic waste problem. Governments and companies efforts to ban plastic straws do, regardless, have a significant impact. Plastic straws have been instrumental in the conversation that has led to action and progress as we begin to reduce the impact of plastic waste on the environment. Whereas small and lightweight, they're also highly visible and affect marine life, and these moves also help to encourage employees and customers to take action too.
So, whereas banning plastic straws and other single-use plastic items won't rid the Oceans of our plastic mess, it certainly will help to reduce it and encourage broader initiatives, and each small step is a step worth taking.