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Single-use plastic straws: the needle in the haystack?


2019-05-07   

The European Parliament voted to ban plastic straws, among other single-use plastics, in March this year. Starting 2020, free plastic straws will be banned from all food and beverage outlets in Taiwan. In the Middle East, the Jumeirah Restaurant Group has announced a company-wide ban. July 2018, Seattle became the largest U.S. with to outlaw plastic straws.
Starbucks plans to phase out the culprit by 2020, McDonald’s has started changing to paper straws in the UK and Ireland, and Alaska Airlines has followed suit. Nestlé joined the bandwagon in January, announcing they would drop plastic straws from their products.
500 million straws are used every day in the U.S. alone. 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches. So, a clear-cut problem with governments and F&B companies responding responsibly? Not so sure.
Plastic straws account for only 0.025% of the eight million tons of plastic flowing into the oceans every year. It’s not a lot, so why such a public outcry against plastic straws?
Dune Ives, executive director of the Lonely Whale Foundation, chose to focus on the plastic straw as a marketing ploy. She writes, “As our team explored the myriad options of plastic pollution to find the perfect entry point to incent behavior change, we found plastic water bottles too endemic, plastic bags already somewhat politicized, and no viable alternative for the plastic cup in ALL markets. That’s why we chose the plastic straw.”
An argument which is hard to swallow... especially for those who cannot drink without a straw. Many disabled people must use straws to drink. Without them, they risk aspirating liquid into their lungs, developing pneumonia and dying. According to blogger Disabled Vegan, the ban is “putting the onus of reducing ocean plastic waste onto an already marginalized group.” And putting their lives at stake.
The good news is that suppliers to the F&B industry are working on solutions, giving manufacturers viable options should they opt for non-plastic straws:
SIG has developed a paper straw which is robust enough to pierce the closed straw hole of SIG’s aseptic cartons. The wrapper of the straw remains attached to the pack, to prevent litter.
AVANI has a straw made from cornstarch and has been certified compostable.
Huhtamaki has launched a high-quality, sustainable paper straw. The fibre comes from sustainably managed forests and 100% of the paper used in the straws and their wrapping is PEFC certified.
Stora Enso and Sulapac joined forces to create a straw based on Sulapac’s biocomposite materials, made of wood and natural binders, which are designed to be recycled via industrial composting. In marine environments, the straws are biodegradable.
Mexican-based Biofase constructs single-use straws out of bioplastics made from discarded avocado pits.
Vietnamese-based company Ong Hut Co makes straws out of sedge grass which grows wild along the Meking Delta. Currently, they sell straws in Vietnam only and do not ship abroad. It will be interesting to follow this company and see if they develop sufficiently to support industrial clients.
Links for learning more on this topic:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/27/the-last-straw-european-parliament-votes-to-ban-single-use-plastics
https://asiancorrespondent.com/2018/03/how-are-asian-countries-tackling-plastic-pollution/
http://www.theprochefme.com/middle-east-based-restaurants-say-no-to-plastic-straws/
https://www.theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/
https://www.onghutco.com
https://www.disabledvegan.com
https://www.globalwildlife.org/the-gateway-plastic/

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/07/11/627773979/why-people-with-disabilities-want-bans-on-plastic-straws-to-be-more-flexible?
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