On Monday, Starbucks, ever-eager to portray itself as a corporation that is sensitive to environmental concerns, jumped on the bandwagon with those advocating the removal of plastic straws. Starbucks Kevin Johnson CEO issued a press release in which he said, "This is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways."
One problem: as Christian Britschgi notes in Reason, the replacements Starbucks plans to use for the plastic straws, nitro lids, are comprised of more plastic than Starbucks’ current lid/straw combination.
Britschgi writes, “Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size. (I got these results by measuring Starbucks' plastic straws and lids on two separate scales, both of which gave me the same results.) This means customers are at best breaking even under Starbucks' strawless scheme, or they are adding between .32 and .88 grams to their plastic consumption per drink.”
Oh, but it’s been so trendy to eliminate plastic straws. Britschgi delineates exactly how powerful that trend has become:
In July, Seattle imposed America's first ban on plastic straws. Vancouver, British Columbia, passed a similar ban a few months earlier. There are active attempts to prohibit straws in New York City, Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco. A-list celebrities from Calvin Harris to Tom Brady have lectured us on giving up straws. Both National Geographic and The Atlantic have run long profiles on the history and environmental effects of the straw. Vice is now treating their consumption as a dirty, hedonistic excess.
When Reason contacted Starbucks about the increase in plastic consumption, a Starbucks spokesperson asserted, "The introduction of our strawless lid as the standard for non-blended beverages by 2020 allows us to significantly reduce the number of straws and non-recyclable plastic" because the new lids are recyclable.
Britschgi notes wryly, “This is cold comfort given the fact that even most of the stuff that is put in recycling bins still winds up at the dump.” He points out that what truly matters is the weight of plastic, because “most plastic, whatever form it enters the ocean as, will eventually be broken up into much smaller pieces known as micro-plastics. It is these micro-plastics that form those giant ocean garbage patches, pile up on the ocean floor, and leech into the stomachs and flesh of sea creatures.”
Britschgi chides those who are in favor of banning straws, noting that they rely on the claim that Americans use 500 million straws a day, “which was the product of a 9-year-old's research or totally unproven notions (like the theory that straws are a "gateway plastic") in order to justify petty prohibitions on innocuous straws.”