The Last Straw

Starbucks recently announced that they were planning to replace straws with recyclable plastic lids in all their stores by 2020. This decision has sparked a debate over what actions companies can take to reduce the plastic that flows into oceans every day without compromising customer comfort. Many cities on the coasts of the US have also banned straws, including Seattle, NYC, and areas in California like Berkeley and Malibu.  

While it may seem like banning straws could only be a positive thing – given that straws, as light as they are, are prone to being blown out of trash cans and lost to the sea – it is important to remember that some people use straws because they have no other option. This is why, in response to city-wide bans of straws, many people have argued that disabled people would be disadvantaged should the bans be put in place.

Starbucks has promised that they will still stock compostable straws – available to customers on request – but many worry that city- and even state-wide bans would severely affect disabled people. Furthermore, many propose that these bans only cover non-compostable straws, so that compostable and reusable straws may be used instead.

Interestingly enough, today, compostable straws are very expensive compared to plastic straws. One source reports compostable straws to be $65.75 per 5000 and another source confirms regular straws cost about $12.39 per 5000. This means that smaller businesses like bars and cafes will probably not switch to compostable straws. Even still, businesses could reduce their use of straws for free by handing out straws only by customer request. This way, people that don’t need straws don’t end up using them.

Many also question Starbucks’ and these cities’ fixation on straws. Straws, while prone to ending up in landfills and in our oceans, do not make up a significant percentage of ocean trash. Some say that replacing plastic straws with recyclable plastic lids (in Starbucks’ case) will do more harm than good. Recyclable lids are only better than non-recyclable straws if they are consistently disposed of in recycling bins, and Starbucks cannot guarantee that the majority will.

A plastic beverage container typically takes 500+ years to decompose. In comparison, a plastic straw takes about 200+ to degrade completely. Using our Life Cycle Assessment software (LCA) EcoImpact-COMPASS, an analysis of straws made of plastic and compostable straws shows that not only do compostable straws use 35% less fossil fuels over their lifetime, they also have less impact on Green House Gas (GHG) by 16%. Unfortunately, they do use a lot more water.. Trade offs like these are the reason analytical software like EcoImpact-COMPASS is so helpful. 

At Trayak, we specialize in helping you analyze your packaging environmental footprint. We then help you make better decisions to be more sustainable, whether it be taking a small step with a straw, or a larger step by overhauling the whole package. Our EcoImpact-COMPASS software can quantify the benefits and tradeoffs of any change you might make to your packaging system. This will enable you to make better decisions for your sustainable packaging initiatives.

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