A viral video of a turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose was a wake-up call for the world. The gruesome footage helped spark a war against plastic waste–or more specifically, plastic straws. On July 9, Starbucks announced that it would eliminate plastic straws from all of their stores by 2020. The replacement for plastic straws will be a new “sippy cup for adults”: this new cup has a recyclable lid that consumers can directly sip directly out of.
Though stores still provide the iconic green plastic straws, the company is slowly phasing them out. More than 8,000 stores in the US and Canada are beginning to serve certain drinks–such as Cold Foam or Draft Nitro–from the new sippy cups, while some also provide the sippy cups for customers who specifically ask for one. Stores in Seattle and Vancouver will be the first to provide these lids for all cold drinks this fall. Frappuccino drinks will still be served with the original lids, but also with straws made of compostable plastic or paper. These recyclable straws will be available for consumers with disabilities who need straws, or customers who specifically ask for straws as well.
“I think it’s going to be really good for the environment,” said Dana Smith, a Starbucks employee, when asked about the sippy lids. “I do think it’s going to encourage a lot of people to purchase reusable straws, and that way if they’re a person that really likes straws, they can use them.”
The environmental impact of this initiative is still up for debate. Plastic waste has a detrimental effect on marine life, as research has shown that plastic has been found in 70 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of sea turtles. According to The New Republic, plastic straws and plastic stirrers make up 7 percent of plastic waste and 4 percent of plastic waste in the ocean, specifically. 500 million plastic straws are used and disposed in the US on a daily basis, and these straws often cannot be recycled and can take up to 200 years to decompose.
Because Starbucks is one of the leading food chains in the world, it hopes that its decision will influence other businesses to follow a more environmentally sustainable path as well. CEO of Starbucks Kevin Johnson says that the company’s decision to eliminate plastic straws is a “significant milestone to achieve [its] global aspiration of sustainable coffee.”
Yet there are still many critical voices regarding the elimination of plastic straws. Critics argue that the decision fails to address the needs of disabled customers. Though Starbucks will provide straws made of paper or other recyclable materials, Disability Rights Washington said in a letter to Seattle that such straws do not have the safety and flexibility as plastic straws do.
At the end of the day, Starbucks’ initiative brings many questions into the picture, and it may be premature to label the company’s decision as completely effective or ineffective. Though straws only make a small percentage of the ocean’s waste, some consumers consider the initiative a small but important step forward. “I think this is a beginning,” said Lauren Neuberg, a consumer of Starbucks. “You have to start with something, and I think this is a good beginning point.”