Starbucks, Saving the Planet with their Straw Ban? Not So Fast Says NH Nonprofit
Starbucks announced Monday they will eliminate all single-use plastic straws by 2020.
The coffee chain, which operates more than 28,000 stores globally, will instead offer a strawless lid or biodegradable straw. The move is expected to eliminate more than one billion plastic straws per year from Starbucks stores, the company says.
Plastic straws are one of the top five biggest sources of single-use plastic waste according to the environmental advocacy group 5 Gyres. The others include plastic bags, water bottles, to-go containers and to-go cups.
Straws are especially problematic as they are too small to be easily recycled, often fitting through grates in storm drains and ending up in our oceans.
In 2015 a semi-graphic video went viral of a plastic straw being removed from a sea turtle’s nose.
Several advocacy groups are praising the shift, which is expected to cost Starbucks $10 million.
Nicholas Mallos, Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program said he hopes other companies take note.
“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 8 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."
Although the shift helps to get the conversation started, not everyone agrees the change is for the better.
Keith Tharp, the brainchild of local nonprofit Sustainable Seacoast, says their mission is to eliminate all single-use plastic. “We’re happy Starbucks is listening to the demand and making efforts, it’s hard to get too excited since they will be replacing those single-use straws with more single-use plastic.”
Starbucks said it will offer discounts to those who bring in reusable cups and it committed $10 million to develop and help bring to market a fully recyclable and compostable hot cup.
Sustainable Seacoast is a new organization, but is already making big waves in the world of oceanic conservation by working with restaurants to find alternatives and solutions to single-use plastics.
"We started Sustainable Seacoast to highlight the businesses working hard to reduce their impact on the environment, to show patrons the importance of those efforts and to connect the two while encouraging and assisting more restaurants and patrons to support the mission," Tharp said.
While nonprofits like Sustainable Seacoast are getting the word out, a dozen cities and towns in Maine have enacted some type of single-use plastic bag restrictions. But, New Hampshire is lagging behind. The state Senate killed a bill in 2016 that would let municipalities decide whether they wanted to ban plastic bags in their communities.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona, the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic bags annually. The bags are used for an average of just 12 minutes but it takes 500 years or more for those bags to degrade, never breaking down completely.
And it's killing our ocean life.
Last month, attempts to rescue a pilot whale near Thailand were unsuccessful after the male whale vomited plastic bags. A necropsy revealed 17 pounds of plastic bags and other plastics obstructing its stomach.
Earlier this year, a 33-foot long sperm whale that washed up on a beach in Spain had 64 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach.
An estimated 100-thousand marine animals die each year from plastic pollution.
Organizations like Sustainable Seacoast are trying to change that narrative.
"Each of us can inspire change in others through our actions," Tharp said. "The wave of change for single-use plastic is growing and coming, we're at the very beginning of this."
How you can help
Tharp says to support local businesses that are working to reduce their environmental impact. Also, awareness. Take notice of single-use plastics in your life and work to shift toward reusable items.
Other ways you can help is to volunteer for beach cleanups through the Blue Ocean Society or another organization.
Buy a bracelet. The 4Ocean Society sells simple bracelets that will remind you to protect our planet. With each purchase the organization promises to clean up one pound of trash from our oceans and coastlines.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.