Starbucks caves to advocacy group As You Sow; plans to eliminate plastic straws by 2020

A proposal by advocacy group As You Sow (Oakland, CA) was presented and voted on by shareholders in March asking Starbucks to phase out plastic straws. It received less than 30% support, but As You Sow considered it a victory. 

Starbucks has already begun taking action on the plastic straw matter with plans to switch to a strawless lid or straws made from an alternative material at its more than 28,000 company operated and licensed stores by 2020. According to a report in the July 10, 2018, edition of the Wall Street Journal, Starbucks had recommended that shareholders vote against the proposal, which fell short of a majority. However, the coffee giant already uses its strawless plastic lid in more than 8,000 stores in the United States and Canada.

In its press release, As You Sow stated that calling out companies when they fail to deliver on “ambitious goals” is one way to hold them accountable. For example, As You Sow noted that in 2008, “Starbucks pledged that by 2015, 25% of beverages would be served in reusable containers and 100% of paper and plastic cups would be recyclable at all company-owned stores. Today, less than 2% of beverages are served in reusable cups and only 60% of stores have cup recycling.” 

Perhaps people don’t always carry their reusable cups around with them when traveling. Reusable cups are a great idea, but not always the most convenient, and today’s consumers want convenience.  

As I’ve noted in numerous blogs about alternatives to plastics—including paper—proposed by various groups, the alternative often is worse for the environment than plastic when the total life cycle is taken into account. Paper cups have to be coated with either polyethylene (PE) or wax to make them sturdy enough to hold liquids, which makes both unrecyclable in the paper waste stream. Paper cups with a wax coating are accepted at composting facilities. That is something the folks at As You Sow probably do not know since they obviously don’t do a lot of research on the materials that they oppose. They just demand alternatives without any understanding of the consequences of these alternatives on the environment.

We never read any articles containing scientific information about plastics from the plastics industry trade groups when it comes to the issue of straws. I’ve not seen any scientific comparison studies of plastics and alternatives. Do you think that the advocacy groups that want to rid the world of plastic will stop at straws? I personally doubt it. Next they will go after the plastic strawless lid! 

More consumer education is needed and it must come from the plastics industry itself. If consumers are not given the scientific information, they will believe the hype, and that will be bad for all of us who make our living in this business.

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