Commentary

Starbucks Putting The Lid On Single-Use Plastic Straws By 2020

Starbucks will eliminate the single-use of more than one-billion plastic straws yearly from its more than 28,000 locations worldwide by 2020, replacing them with a recyclable plastic lid and straws made from compostable plastic or paper.

“The strawless lid has already been in use at many of the company’s stores for certain kinds of cold drinks like Cold Foam and Draft Nitro, the coffee drink that comes out of a keg, mixed with nitrogen. Unlike straws, the new lid can be recycled, the company said,” NPR’s Jennifer Liberto reports.

“The new designs have drawn comparisons to an adult ‘sippy cup,’” observes Danielle Wiener-Bronner for CNN Money.

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Frappuccino will be served with a straw made from paper or PLA compostable plastic manufactured from fermented plant starch or other sustainable material, Starbucks says, and customers who prefer or need a straw can request one.

“Plastic drinking straws make up only about 4% of plastic trash by number of pieces, and far less by weight. Straws add up to about 2,000 tons of the nearly 9 million tons of plastic waste that ends up in waters worldwide each year,” according to an AP report in the Los Angeles Times. “Still, the advocacy group 5 Gyres says the five biggest sources of single-use plastic are plastic bags, water bottles, to-go containers, to-go cups and straws.”

Last month, you’ll recall, McDonald’s announced that it will replace plastic straws with paper ones in its 1,361 restaurants in the U.K. and Ireland starting this September, and said it will begin testing alternatives in other countries including the U.S.

“The movement to ban single-use straws has gained traction via the work of nonprofits, lawmakers and online campaigns like Stop Sucking and the Last Plastic Straw, not to mention a graphic 2015 video, viewed on YouTube more than 30 million times, that showed marine biologists pulling a straw out of a sea turtle’s nose,” reports Christina Caron for the New York Times.

“And it shows no sign of slowing down. In Los Angeles, a Kickstarter campaign to develop “the world’s first collapsible, reusable straw” has already drawn $1.9 million in contributions, and a documentary called “Straws,” now screening across the country, examines the problems caused by plastic pollution,” Caron continues.

“Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. said in February that it will replace foam cups with a double-walled paper model at all of its Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shops by 2020. Yum Brands Inc., which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, said it is working with suppliers on a number of paper-based packaging options,” write Julie Jargon and Kimberly Chin for the Wall Street Journal.

“Chicago-based Hyatt on Monday said that after Sept. 1, straws and picks will be available by request only at its more than 700 properties world-wide. 'Eco-friendly alternatives’ will be provided where available, Hyatt said,” they continue.

Starbucks has created an origins narrative, dating back to 2016, for its new lid.

“In the beginning, the assignment was limited in scope: Could Emily Alexander design a new lid for just one beverage to be used in just one store? Alexander, an engineer in global research & development at Starbucks, and her team set to work drawing up plans for a strawless lid that would showcase Starbucks’ Draft Nitro and its trademark Cold Foam that was being served at a Reserve store in Seattle,” writes Bonnie Rochman for the Starbucks Newsroom blog.

After a lot of doodling and experimenting, they came up with a lid that’s now used for a few drinks, such as Draft Nitro and Cold Foam, in more than 8,000 stores. Then, two weeks ago, Alexander learned her lid — made of polypropylene content — would replace most straws. 

“She was sworn to secrecy until today’s official announcement. ‘I am really excited to have developed something that can be part of this big transformation of going strawless,’ Alexander said. ‘It was this very small thing and now it is so much bigger and more impactful,’” the post continues.

Chris Milne, director of packaging sourcing for Starbucks, serves up a trio of metaphors in throwing down the gauntlet to other companies. “Starbucks is finally drawing a line in the sand and creating a mold for other large brands to follow. We are raising the water line for what’s acceptable and inspiring our peers to follow suit,” he says.

“Starbucks' announcement included statements of support from organizations such as the Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas program and the World Wildlife Fund, praising the company for its straw ban,” the BBC points out. “Nicholas Mallos, of the Ocean Conservancy, said the ban was ‘a shining example of the important role that companies can play in stemming the tide of ocean plastic.’”

And a shining example of riding the wave of a do-good announcement with compelling stories, stats and supportive quotes from outsiders.

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