Starbucks Promises to Go Straw-Free by 2020

Public Domain. Starbucks

We applaud this move, which will eliminate more than 1 billion straws per year.

The world has spoken and Starbucks has heard. The giant coffee chain has promised to eliminate straws from all of its 28,000 stores worldwide. By 2020, it says that all iced coffee, espresso, and tea beverages will come with strawless lids, remodelled for easy sipping. This special lid, likened by some (curmudgeons?) to an adult sippy cup, is already available at more than 8,000 stores in Canada and the U.S. For thick blended beverages like the Frappuccino, paper or compostable straws will be distributed to any patrons who need them (but hopefully you have your own stainless, glass, or pasta straw in hand, ready to go).

This is a laudable step for a company whose environmental progress has been much slower than many would like to see. While Starbucks has dragged its heels in figuring out an eco-friendly alternative to its notoriously non-recyclable coffee cups, 4 billion of which go to landfill annually, it appears to be enthusiastic about tackling straws, likely due to the fact that it's easier to ban straws than it is to get rid of coffee cups. But still, this is progress worth celebrating.

Straws have become a focal point in the anti-plastic movement in the last few years because they are impossible to recycle, due to their size and chemical composition. A major catalyst in the global attitude toward straws was a horrifying video of a turtle with a straw jammed up its nose that made headlines several years ago. Since then, more images of plastic-filled stomachs of sea birds, whales, and other wildlife have driven home the message that straws do far more damage than good and, being utterly unnecessary (for the most part, unless someone has disabilities), can stand to be eliminated.

Starbucks' move is garnering lavish praise from some environmental activists. Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas program, said in a press release:

"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 eight 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."

I am pleased with the announcement, too, and eagerly await the day when needlessly sipping on a straw is seen as a harmful and archaic behavior. But I do hope the move does not make Starbucks (or its customers) complacent in the battle against all plastic pollution, particularly that which is caused by their single-use disposable coffee cups. Straws are lower-hanging fruit in the battle against plastic, but hopefully it provides the motivation Starbucks needs to keep fighting in all the ways that count.