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Leon Kaye headshot

Starbucks Takes a Stand By Promising to Say Good-Bye to Plastic Straws

By Leon Kaye

Starbucks announced yesterday that it will phase out plastic straws across all of its stores worldwide by 2020.

If the coffee giant follows through with this bold to ban single-use plastic straws, Starbucks could be known as the forward-thinking company that pushed other restaurant and beverage chains to break a longstanding, and destructive, consumer habit.

Starbucks, of course is known for many things. The company has long stood out for providing health insurance options for retail employees working as few as 20 hours a week. And while Starbucks wants to be known as that third place besides home and the office, the chain of 24,000 stores has also generated plenty of news in recent years. For example, it has tried to conduct a campaign focused on having conversations about race relations; the company has been the target of numerous boycotts after taking many controversial stands; and then the chain’s “third place” reputation took a serious hit after a wayward Philadelphia employee’s decision catapulted Starbucks into the #LivingWhileBlack social media conversation.

But in this era of brands taking stands, Starbucks now has an opportunity to stand out as it challenges customers to do away with a convenience all of us have long taken for granted.

Starbucks said it is looking into several alternatives to the plastic straw, including a cup lid designed to eliminate the need for those pesky flimsy tubes in the first place. Straws made out of paper or compostable plastic are also scoring a close look.

The new lids will be rolled out in the Seattle and Vancouver, BC before the end of this year. The rollout will continue across the U.S. during 2019, with an introduction also planned for European markets such as France and the Netherlands. In the United Kingdom, a 5p charge (6.6 cents) per cup will eventually expand to all 950 stores in that country in an attempt to promote more sustainable habits.

Environmental organizations and their allies have long decried the impact that they say plastic straws have on our open spaces, waterways and oceans. The National Park Service, for example, has estimated that Americans go through 500 million plastic straws a day. Other organizations, such as WWF, assert that while the average straw lingers around for five minutes before they are disposed, they can remain in the environment for as long as 400 years.

Starbucks, and its competition, really have little choice but to rethink the plastic straw. The company’s home base, Seattle, recently banned plastic straws and utensils, and additional cities are mulling similar bans. Other municipalities have restricted their use – San Luis Obispo, on California’s central coast, has an ordinance stating plastic straws can only be given out upon customers’ request.

Many environmental groups were quick to applaud the move, including the Ocean Conservancy. “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, and we are grateful for Starbucks’ leadership in this space,” said Nicholas Mallos, the director of the conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, in a public statement.

Image credit: Starbucks

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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