Starbucks and Seattle City eliminate single-use plastic straws in landmark moves

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10 Jul 2018 --- Starbucks will no longer provide single-use plastic straws in its more than 28,000 stores worldwide in a move that is expected to eliminate more than one billion plastic straws annually. The coffee giant will instead offer a strawless lid or paper or plastic compostable straw alternative. Meanwhile, Seattle has become the first major city to ban single-use plastic straws and eating utensils, as of July 1.

Starbucks has designed, developed and manufactured a strawless lid, which will become the standard for all iced coffee, tea and espresso beverages. The lid is currently available in more than 8,000 stores in the US and Canada for select beverages including Starbucks Draft Nitro and Cold Foam.

The lid is also being piloted for Nitro beverages in additional markets including China, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. In addition, Starbucks will begin offering straws made from alternative materials – including paper or compostable plastic – for Frappuccino blended beverages and available by request for customers who prefer or need a straw.

“For our partners and customers, this is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways,” says Kevin Johnson, president and chief executive officer for Starbucks.

Customers in Seattle and Vancouver will be the first to see the strawless lids implemented, starting this fall, with phased rollouts within the US and Canada to follow in FY19. A global rollout of the strawless lid will follow, beginning in Europe where strawless lids will arrive in select stores in France and the Netherlands, as well as in the UK just as the market expands its 5p paper cup charge to 950 stores, to further promote reusability.

Seattle: No more single-use plastic straws
Seattle has become the first major US city to ban single-use plastic straws and eating utensils. The move comes after a reported 150 restaurants participated in the “Strawless in Seattle” campaign which ran last year. The campaign prevented an estimated 2.3 million straws from entering waste systems.

As of July 1, Seattle’s near 5,000 restaurants were required to provide alternatives to single-use plastics in the form of paper or compostable straws and utensils. US$250 fines will be issued to restaurants in violation of the new regulations, although Seattle Public Utilities spokesperson Ellen Pepin-Cato reaffirmed that the ban is designed to open a public debate around environmental conversation.

The new regulations allow the use of flexible plastic straws for medical reasons. Restaurants can also still offer plastic straws for dine-in customers or takeaways but the straws must be recyclable.

Starbucks strawless lids

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Starbuck's strawless lid

“Starbucks goal to eliminate plastic straws by 2020 from their stores globally represents the company’s forward thinking in tackling the material waste challenge in totality,” says Erin Simon, Director of Sustainability Research and Development and Material Science at World Wildlife Fund, US. “Plastic straws that end up in our oceans have a devastating effect on species. As we partner with Starbucks in waste reduction initiatives such as Next Gen Consortium Cup Challenge and WWF’s Cascading Materials Vision, we hope others will follow in their footsteps.”

“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,” says Nicholas Mallos, Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program.

Starbucks has a 30-year track record of focusing on sustainability across all aspects of its business, including achieving 99 percent ethically-sourced coffee. In addition to today’s announcement, Starbucks has previously committed US$10 million to develop and help bring to market, a fully recyclable and compostable hot cup, in partnership with Closed Loop Partners, through the NextGen Cup Consortium and Challenge.

The battle against single-use plastics builds momentum
As Starbucks Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Johnson outlined in his presentation to investors at the Oppenheimer Consumer Conference in June, the company is focused on adapting to rapidly changing consumer trends with cold beverages accounting for more than 50 percent of Starbucks beverage mix in the US, up from 37 percent just five years ago. The movement to eliminate single-use plastic straws has been gaining momentum globally, with consumers showing increased concern for the greater issue of waste, of which straws is just a part.

In a similar move, McDonald’s has announced a “phased rollout” of paper straws to replace plastic straws across all of its 1,361 UK and Ireland restaurants from September this year. The transition will be complete by 2019, while the fast-food giants are also trialing alternatives to plastic straws in Belgium and planning tests for select restaurants in the US, France, Sweden, Norway and Australia later this year.

The news also comes after the EU recently ordered a new directive designed to combat plastic ocean waste. The Directive applies measures to the 10 “highest polluting” single-use plastic products, which includes straws. The BBC reports that McDonald’s uses 1.8 million plastic straws every day in the UK alone.

The regulatory clampdown on single-use plastics has created market openings for reusable products. FinalStraw, created by Canadians Emma Cohen and Miles Pepper, is the world’s first reusable and collapsible straw. The straw is made from stainless steel and the container is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic.

The expert view
Sustainability expert and Director of Emagine Packaging, Richard Coles, shares his opinion on Starbuck’s announcement with FoodIngredientsFirst: “I think this is a good step on the road to designing a more sustainable future. Starbucks is showing excellent leadership in the foodservice sector and appropriate corporate social responsibility.”

“However, with due consideration of the social dimension of sustainability, one should also take account of the needs of those elderly and disabled persons who may require bendy plastic straws to enjoy their beverages.”

“Paper and other biobased straws offer a sustainable alternative as they are not only compostable (so, by definition biodegradable) but are also made from renewable resource,” he adds. “Although currently more expensive than plastic straws, with economies of scale derived from mass manufacture I would expect the cost of these biomaterial alternatives to significantly reduce. In particular, the impacts on the environment and the risks posed to our seafood chain make such a small cost increment a price well worth paying.”

“However, one should be aware that there are bioplastic straws made from corn starch-derived PLA (polylactic acid) that will only industrially compost and not biodegrade in the marine or land environment.”

Coles advocates the circular economy model as the most viable route to minimize plastic pollution: “A sustainable design strategy needs to be adopted by brands that supports the emerging circular economy industry paradigm. This involves contextualizing the use of materials and conducting life cycle or cradle-to-cradle assessments.”

“Encouraging sustainable consumption behavior by consumers to recycle and not litter is vitally important. In addition, much more investment is needed to develop plastics recycling infrastructure, particularly in the case of flexible packaging. These activities will require intense collaboration by a wide range of industry and government stakeholders.”

“So long as the alternatives offer real sustainability benefit, then this is undoubtedly the right way for brands to go in enhancing their credentials and appeal to increasingly eco-aware consumers, particularly millennials. It makes no sense to continue to pollute or allow single-use plastics to be disposed to landfill or incineration. This represents not only a waste of valuable fossil fuel resource but also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions advancing climate change which is the world’s number one environmental threat,” Coles concludes.

Starbucks ethical and environmental achievements to date
Starbucks claims a proud history of sustainable initiatives, including:

  • Achieving 99 percent ethically-sourced coffee.
  • Trialing a 5p paper cup charge in London, which will be expanded to 950 stores in the UK later this month, to promote reusability.
  • Offering a discount to any customer who brings a reusable cup or tumbler to company-owned stores around the world.
  • Starbucks cups contain 10 percent post-consumer fiber, introduced in 2006 and a number the company expects to double by 2022.
  • Building more than 1,500 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified stores in 20 markets, including all 50 states and Puerto Rico, the largest green retailer in its sector.
  • Starbucks purchases Renewable Energy Certificates, currently covering 62 percent of their electricity usage globally, with a goal of reaching 100 percent globally by 2020.
  • Expansion of the FoodShare program that donates unsold food to food banks around the country.

By Joshua Poole

This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst's sister website, PackagingInsights.

To contact our editorial team please email us at

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