Time to say goodbye to the plastic straw. But what’s the best alternative?

Plastic Straw 2018

Cyril Villemain/UNEP Local people from Watamu, Kenya, work with Local Ocean Conservation to pick up plastic on the beach.

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Emma Charlton, Writer

Consider the plastic straw.

The once ubiquitous and popular item has become a symbol of our throw-away culture and the proliferation of non-recyclable materials. In the US and UK alone, 550 million plastic straws are thrown away every day, according to Plastic Oceans Foundation.

Image: Plastic Oceans Foundation

Along with single-use carrier bags and disposable cups, the plastic straw’s fall from grace has gone hand-in-hand with an increasing awareness of the damage they are causing, particularly to marine life. Around 8 million tons of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans each year, according to the United Nations Environment Assembly.

Image: Marine Conservation Society

Starbucks is one example. The global coffee chain said it plans to phase out the 1 billion plastic straws it uses each year by 2020. Demand for straws had been increasing alongside the popularity of cold drinks, it said, with cold beverages making up half of all sales in 2017, up from 37% five years ago. Soon, when you visit Starbucks for a cold drink, you’ll be offered a recyclable lid you can sip through.

The company joins other high-profile brands moving away from straws. McDonald’s is replacing plastic straws with paper ones in all its restaurants in the UK and Ireland and plans to start testing alternatives the US, France, Sweden, Norway and Australia.

IKEA will ban plastic straws in the UK and Ireland later this year and plans to remove single-use plastics from its global product range by the end of the decade. And Hyatt Hotels Corporation said that from September plastic straws and drink picks will be offered “on request only and eco-friendly alternatives will be provided where available.” Even the Queen of England has turned anti-straw.

Image: Marine Conservation Society

But not everyone is happy about the straw’s demise, since they are helpful for people that can’t raise a cup to their mouth to drink. And while Starbucks has responded to these concerns, saying anyone who needs a straw can request one made of “alternative materials,” the benefits may prove difficult to match.

Others have questioned how much banning plastic straws will actually help. Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade and a Bloomberg Opinion columnist estimates that straws make up a relatively small proportion of all plastic waste in the oceans and argues that clamping down in other areas, for example reducing how much old fishing gear is dumped and lessening company waste, would be more effective than banning straws.

For disabled people and the elderly, plastic straws are flexible and can withstand the temperature of hot coffee, tea or soup, making them useful for eating and drinking. And campaigners say the alternatives — which include paper, glass or stainless steel — are unsuitable for use because they either disintegrate or conduct heat.

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are more than 600 million people with disability in the world, and while not all of those will need to use straws to eat and drink, it does give some idea of the scale of the issue.

In Seattle, where a ban came into effect on 1 July, the law says companies can make exceptions for people who require plastic straws. Even so, disability rights groups said firms don’t fully understand that they can still offer straws to those that need them, and the alternatives offered aren’t adequate replacements.

Some campaigners complain that companies and governments are acting in response to their concerns — changing policies after they’ve been implemented — rather than proactively considering disability needs when shaping legislation. Scotland’s government wants to outlaw plastic straws by the end of 2019 and has appointed a disability adviser to its expert panel to help make sure “the actions taken do not disproportionately affect disabled people.”

Putting the onus on disabled people to remember their own straws or wash a reusable alternative isn’t a viable or fair solution, campaigners say, as in many cases they may not be able to do so and if they forget to carry a straw with them the consequences of dehydration could be severe.

In a blog post on Greenpeace’s web site, Jamie Szymkowiak, the co-Founder of disability rights group, One in Five, called on manufacturers to produce an environmentally friendly flexible non-plastic straw that is suitable for hot and cold drinks.

Paper is unsuitable because it becomes soggy and a choking risk, he says. Silicone alternatives are not flexible enough and metal, glass and bamboo present dangers for people who have difficulty controlling their bite.

While in their current form, plastic straws can take between 100 and 1,000 years to decompose, biodegradable plastics may offer a viable alternative, since they can break down in as little as 12 weeks under the right conditions. Shunned so far because they cost more than double traditional plastic and because they can’t be easily distinguished from their non-biodegradable cousins, they may yet become part of the way forward.

“We must all work together to demand an environmentally friendly solution that meets all our needs, including those of disabled people,” Szymkowiak says. “As we move to ridding our oceans, beaches and parks of unnecessary single-use plastics, disabled people shouldn’t be used as a scapegoat by large corporations, or governments, unwilling to push suppliers and manufacturers to produce a better solution.”

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Achieving targets on energy helps meet other Global Goals, UN forum told

Trade, taxes and other takeaways from Li Keqiang’s speech to the World Economic Forum

Jeroen Dijsselbloem new Eurogroup president

MI6 chief calls for espionage 4.0 in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Trump-China trade war lingers upsetting global economy and stock markets

Thursday’s Daily Brief: Albinism, displacement in Central America, family-friendly nations, updates on the Gulf and Darfur

Governments can fight corruption by joining the digital payment revolution

Paris, Rome, Brussels and Frankfurt to confront Berlin over growth and the Athens enigma

Moratorium call on surveillance technology to end ‘free-for-all’ abuses: UN expert

Five cities short-listed to become the European Youth Capital 2017

EU Leaders’ meeting in Sofia: Completing a trusted Digital Single Market for the benefit of all

Why philanthropy for – and by – Africans is the future

Brussels enraged with Swiss referendum result to keep out EU citizens

‘Reasons to hope’ for sustainable peace in Central African Republic – UN Mission chief

Brazilian officer a ‘stellar example’ of why more women are needed in UN peacekeeping

European Semester: The Winter Package explained

Is poor generational intelligence holding you back at work?

6 ways countries can prepare for the next infectious disease pandemic

The Changing Scope of International Economic Relations – Chinese Leadership in the 21st Century

Environmentalists have removed nearly 40 tonnes of trash from the Pacific

Entrepreneur India Convention 2016: Bringing together Entrepreneurs, Investors, Startups and SMEs

How to close the gender pay gap in three steps

UN rights chief welcomes new text to protect rights of peasants and other rural workers

Why infrastructure is the only way to fight a COVID-19 recession in the US

The World Bank’s 2020 country classifications explained

Europe might not avoid new partitioning on Ukrainian crisis

MEPs push for high ambitions at the COP25 in Madrid

10 reasons why today’s cyber leaders are tomorrow’s world leaders

COP21 Breaking News_04 December: Commitments Made to Reduce Black Carbon, Methane and HFCs

The two big uncertainties shaping our future

We need to talk: UN gears up for 75th anniversary with Global Conversations

This new solar technology can be printed or woven into fabric

World is ‘on notice’ as major UN report shows one million species face extinction

In Afghanistan, attacks against schools have tripled in one year

Why precision medicine won’t transform healthcare – but governance could

Only international actions can settle the world’s ‘enormous and diverse cross-border challenges’, Qatar tells UN Assembly

State of the Union 2017: Juncker’s optimism about EU growth and Brexit’s impact

This is how countries compare on gun deaths

The big five EU telecom operators in dire straights

Brexit mission impossible: Theresa May was so desperate that had to appoint Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary

Basel III rules relaxed: Banks got it all but become more prone to crisis

3 reasons we should all care about biodiversity

Why income inequality is bad for the climate

We have a space debris problem. Here’s how to solve it

Security Council downsizes AU-UN mission in Darfur, eying eventual exit

Why securing the Internet of Things is crucial to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Forget retail therapy – this is the age of the conscious consumer

#TakeYourSeat at the UN Climate Change Conference: a way for all people to join the global conversation

Sub10 Systems @ MWC14: Bridging the Ethernet of the Future

Give (mental) health to the young health workforce

We are stronger than this pandemic (COVID-19)

Quantitative easing: how Mario can tackle low inflation in Eurozone

Parlamentarians to “break up” with reality in the Google antitrust case

Brexit: the time has come to back the withdrawal deal

IMF v Germany: Eurogroup keeps the fight under control

A new roadmap for corporate climate governance

With rapid, far-reaching changes, world can prevent climate change worst-case scenarios – UN chief

Toni Morrison: 10 quotes you should know

3 ways business leaders can build digital trust

Mass-graves found of at least 535 killed during ‘organized and planned’ inter-communal attacks in western DR Congo

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s