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Starbucks Bans Plastic Straws, Winds Up Using More Plastic (reason.com)
141 points by swamp40 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 170 comments



To me it seems like a lot of people are more interested in absolving themselves from guilt than actually coming up with legitimate solutions to plastic waste. Like the article says, straw waste is negligible, it's even fairly obvious that straw waste is negligible, but banning straws will give faux-environmentalists an "easy win" in their minds. There's a dozen better ideas (all listed here on HN recently), ranging from taxing corporate plastic generation, to better recycling filters, to charging extra for plastic products (like some states do with plastic bags). It's unfortunate that this non-solution has gained traction, but "Ban Straws!" acheives a simple-minded satisfaction versus "0.5% tax penalty for large scale corporations exceeding x tonnes of consumption grade plastic!"


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue_signalling

None of this crap really fixes anything, it's just a way for Western people to pander to a hyper-liberal worldview that "solves" peripheral problems because it's too privileged to fully understand the central problems facing the world.

I read a paper someone posted on here a few months back that described men as less environmentally conscious when their masculinity is threatened. The experiment itself was poorly structured and rife with assumptions of what constitutes environmental consciousness and threats to masculinity. I bring this up because it's an example of multiple academics devoting their time to totally nonessential problems in an effort to gain recognition in the winds of a hyper-liberal zeitgeist.

Hunger, access to goods, guaranteed medical care, literacy, freedom from tyranny and corruption, democratic institutions in the third world, clean water.....these are some of the actual problems that face the world.

Single-use plastics are a problem too, but plastic straws are not the central aspect nor the simplest low-hanging fruit with which to begin tackling the plastics problem.


Care to explain why you believe the "authors assumptions of what constitute environmental consciousness and threat to mascuilinity" was wrong ? Because the way they defined it seemed ok to me from what I remember.

No matter the limits of the study, though, comparing an academic study, even one that's biased by the author's ideology and worldviews in general (like any and every scientific study every written, especially those about political issues) with a purely activist action is questionable. The very process behind them are different. Plastic straws ban was just impulsed by some viral videos of turtles with straws stuck in their noses. There's a logical chain of event which makes considering this as "virtue signaling" a fair analysis. It's questionnable to assume academics who linked environmental consciousness with masculinity were actually virtue signaling and looking for some recognition when it could just be that their worldview and past experiences "naturally" lead to such hypotheses and the way they built their study just proved their point due to how they were designed.

Secondly, the way you hierarchize what you consider real issues vs unimportant ones also betrays your own position and is by no means absolute, AND it's not a good argument I believe. 99%¨of what I see on HN is not relevant to actual problems as you define them, for starters. And more than 99% of research activity is disconnected from any of those issues, and making all research focus on such issues wouldn't even help anyway, or so I believe. The academic study you refer to does not by any means claim to be revolutionnary when it comes to solving environmental issues, but it is very plausible that a part of why so many people don't care much about the environment is tied to sociocultural factors.



>None of this crap really fixes anything, it's just a way for Western people to pander to a hyper-liberal worldview that "solves" peripheral problems because it's too privileged to fully understand the central problems facing the world.

You managed to crystallize my exact thoughts into words.


Whether one think it’s a viable complete solution or not does not mean efforts are feel good charades. They swapped a thing that is not recyclable with one that is. The people who made this decision are solving one problem. The recycling industry being crippled is another problem that is not yet solved. There’s no need to throw our hands up and say “this didn’t even save the planet! They are such fakers!” It’s a good effort, and fixes one problem they can solve, that’s how things get done, people keep fixing the problem in front of them until the issue is actually resolved.


That's a good point. Like another comment below regarding culture, it's a good PR campaign to raise awareness about plastic waste, which can help lead to better solutions (and better culture) down the road. Sometimes the cynic gets the best of me.


> They swapped a thing that is not recyclable with one that is.

Perhaps that could have been done while keeping the straws.


You state it's a "non-solution", but is it really? We've shown time and time again that appealing to people on the "big, intangible thing" just isn't working.

Lots of hand-waving about taxation on big businesses isn't useful if there's no pressure from the general public to get us there. Framing the issue with something as relatable as straws gives some grounding, providing a foundation to build the harder arguments on.

We started with plastic bags in the UK, we're working our way through straws (and things like wasting ugly food), momentum builds, and soon you'll have an entire populace trained to spot wasteful use of resources. It's a giant education piece for millions of people - edging and nudging behaviour, where "shock change" has fundamentally failed so far.

You also diminish the importance of simple-minded satisfaction. We want people to run towards solutions, not be beaten away from bad habits.


I was listening to infinite monkey cage the other day (the 100th episode - actually watched it)

The format wasn't great (too much in too short a time), but one assertion was made that the damage caused by 1 'bag for life' was equal to 100+ disposable bags.

This seems to stem from a UK Government comparative study [0] of supermarket bags, which showed that a cotton reusable bag must be reused 131 times to match the lower environmental impact of a conventional plastic shopping bag used just once.

However non-cotton bags had far lower reuse levels, and it isn't clear at a quick glance how they determine environmental impact. They also neglect to account for double-bagging that used to be prevalant, or the larger bag sizes of "bag-for-life" meaning you need fewer bags for your shopping. It looks from that report that typical bags need to be reused 4 or 5 times to be effective. [1] suggests an average of 6 times.

One thing that has changed though with the 5p charge, coupled with things like Blue Planet -- people think about their use. In the past people would have a bag when buying 2 or 3 things, now they often don't, using pockets or existing bags. The change in attitude is probably more of an impact than bag reuse.

[0] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/... [1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36917174


Selling reusable bags at $1 turns a $0.015 cost into a $0.55 profit - from a store's point of view. This scales quite nicely.


Reusable bags in the UK are 5p, and the big shops certainly give any proceeds to charities.

$1 sounds far better though -- fewer people will treat them as disposable. I guess you should vote with your wallet.


> "big, intangible thing"

As the article stated, the global problem of plastic waste entering the ocean may be big, but it is definitely not intangible. The source of most plastic entering the ocean is poor coastal countries that lack developed solid waste management. (By contrast, the US is responsible for only 1% of plastic that enters the ocean annually.)

It took me some time, but I found a non-profit that helps develop waste management in African countries. If you want to make a tangible difference in future oceanic plastic waste volume, a donation here might help: http://www.waste.nl/


Throwing solid waste in a hole is not management of that waste. What we need is recycling technology that works and is widely used, which requires money, which means we need to target the advanced economies first.


I strongly disagree. Properly using and managing landfills worldwide is one of several necessary first steps towards a better ocean.

We are multiple large breakthroughs away from recycling technology becoming a viable path towards meaningful reduction of ocean-bound waste. Meanwhile, poor coastal nations continue to use the ocean as a landfill.

Assuming you’re able to dodge corruption in local officials, a dollar towards waste management development in Africa will go much further (in reduced kg/year of trash going into the ocean) than a dollar towards recycling technology R&D.


Here's an article that gives some more shape to the problem: https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-01-13/5-countries-dump-more...


Don’t forget, it’s politically easier to push around end users than businesses. If you ban one-use disposable cups, Starbucks would lose its mind. Much easier to nickel and dime customers in ways that visibly look like you’re trying to solve something.


It's like walking home from work, seeing a house in flames, peeing into the fire and going home thinking "Today I did good".


Almost - I think it's like driving home from work, hearing about a house on fire on the radio news, then, when you get home, you pee and think "I'm doing my bit contributing to the water supply for the fire fighters."


This is closer, but I think the best analogy for this is hearing about the fire, deciding to never buy matches again and thinking that you're doing your part in preventing house fires.


C'mooooon. Are plastic straws the biggest problem facing the planet? No. But they do account for ~3% of the plastic in our oceans. Doing something here is absolutely better than doing nothing. As Churchill said: "Perfection is the Enemy of Progress". This is definitely progress.


0.022%

...all those billions of straws add up to only about 2,000 tons of the nearly 9 million tons of plastic waste that yearly hits the waters.

https://phys.org/news/2018-04-science-amount-straws-plastic-...


>But they do account for ~3% of the plastic in our oceans.

Source?


https://get-green-now.com/environmental-impact-plastic-straw...

>And, as of early 2018, data from Ocean Conservancy’s TIDES system shows us that straws/stirrers are the 11th most found ocean trash in cleanups, making up about 3% of recovered trash.

Recovered trash is maybe be different than total trash?!


Are there better ideas that don’t involve taxes? Businesses voluntarily getting rid of straws so that they’re not part of the problem seems like a good, cheap solution. And it doesn’t require human effort to continue buying straws, forcing many customer interactions to decide: straw-or-no-straw, tracking how many straws were used, and reporting that data back to the government, all so that we still have this plastic waste. I’m not seeing how an option like this I’d preferable. But I’m open to other ideas. And I agreem, this didn’t matter so much in terms of impact.


> Are there better ideas that don’t involve taxes?

If straws have an undesirable externality, that externality should be compensated for. We do this by taxation.


Well you could change culture. In my country straws aren't used much. You don't need a straw to drink. In fact I only see expats drink coffee with a straw.


Part of the reason they are big in the US may be the fact that we drive so much. There are many Starbucks stores with drive-thru windows.

If you want to consume a beverage while driving, a covered cup with a straw is much easier.

(One could now say “Americans shouldn’t drive so much!” or “don’t consume food while driving”, I guess. We should probably also build more dense housing in walkable neighborhoods, invest in mass transit, and shorten commutes and working hours so everybody has time for a leisurely breakfast at the neighborhood cafe.)


One of the coffee chains I use has stoppers to keep the coffee from sloshing out of the sipping hole in the lid while I'm driving the coffee to the office.

The other one does not offer stoppers. So I have to improvise with either wooden stirrers or plastic (for now) straws. The wooden stirrers don't fill the sipping hole entirely but they do enough to the movement of the coffee that I don't have to worry about coffee sloshing out. But they make the coffee taste like wood. So I use a plastic straw. At first I took their advice and did not drink through the straw. But if the coffee has cooled sufficiently to be sipped carelessly, it can be sipped through a straw.

Here's an idea. An autoclave, IV hardware, and coffee sold to the public in pouches. The hardware is reused with the help of the autoclave.


When Starbucks introduced the little green non-recyclable stopper sticks they claimed the idea was for people to wash and reuse them. But there are no signs in Starbucks to encourage this and of course no one does. Except maybe me. I got sick of finding them everywhere. There must be a hundred under my car seat. So I've allowed myself no more. I've carried about a half dozen in every handbag, washed and reused them. My BF and I joke that everyone should be issued one stopper stick per lifetime....ha! But recently I was shocked to find out Starbucks cups aren't even recyclable! So I bought one of their reusable plastic cups, only to find their little green stopper sticks don't fit. :(

C'mon Starbucks, with all your profits, you can do better than this.


protecting those pearly whites ;)

it helps, whether good dental care or not, to find ways to prevent staining your teeth as part of regular, daily routine


The whole point of drinking a $5+ beverage is to enjoy the taste of it. That means, even if you use a straw, you're going to hold the beverage in your mouth so that your tongue and nose can experience it.

Straws really are only necessary with extremely elderly people, the sick and young children wherever one can't reliably lift the cup to their lips because of limited motor skills. Or perhaps in the USA where people drink 32 OZ beverages from a bucket that is liable to spill because of the waves caused by the ice cubes bobbing around in it.


Okay, I'll help you out. Quit caffeine.

No more soda, no more coffee, no more stains, no more jitters. Detox is unpleasant but only takes a couple days. The cravings never go away though.


Coffee is protective of the cardiovascular system, and reduces mortality.

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-42081278


I didn't need a BBC article to tell me that coffee reduces mortality -- the odds of coworkers dying drops significantly after one has their first (or third) cup ;-)


No more fun.


So straws are a beauty product! But you still don't use them with hot coffee right? Otherwise you get melted straws and yucky plastic tasting coffee.


Most people I know who insist on straws for everything cite hygiene. You don’t know what contaminants are on that cup rim, bottle, or can opening, but you can reasonably assume the straw (if you unwrap it yourself) is cleaner.


Drinks are easy to spill when walking around. Outside of the straw, these cups are mainly sealed vessels. How often do you go for a walk with a latte or water in hand?


Its actually not that complicated. Don't use plastic.


>people are more interested in absolving themselves from guilt than actually coming up with legitimate solutions to plastic waste

Yep, it's pure politics, and it's not much different than any other political situation. Most of the people speaking up are more concerned with HOW a problem is addressed, rather than IF that problem is actually addressed. They don't ask for less crime or mass murder, they ask for gun control. They don't ask for lower unemployment, they ask for immigration enforcement. And, politicians are only measured by whether they implemented those specific controls, and not at all for whether they actually managed to make progress towards solving or reducing a problem.


It's my understanding that the new 'sippy' lids are recyclable where as the straws are not. In the Lower Mainland (ie the Vancouver BC area including the Fraser Valley), the elimination of straws at most restaurants has been very quick and it's a bit strange to not get one!

I have somewhat sensitive teeth and kind of miss them, but I'll bring my own, probably reusable, if I start to feel strongly about it and right now you can get a straw if you ask for it (though I expect that will go away at some point).

Note also paper straws are a thing.


The article addressed it. Even if they get recycled, they mostly end up in the dump.


The article "addressed" it with a misleading statement. It said that much of what Californian residents put in the recycle bin isn't recycled. That's because they throw nonrecyclables (like used pizza boxes) into the bin along with their recyclables, and most waste management companies won't separate these items, choosing instead to discard the batch. This is the wrong evidence to give for two reasons:

1. Commercial waste management is different from residential waste management.

2. By removing nonrecyclable plastic straws, Starbucks removed a source of contamination for their plastic recyclables. Thus, the percentage of their plastic that is recycled would have gone up even more under the assumption that their commercial waste management company wasn't already filtering out straws.

This is no small error. The author should have known to delve into this more because increasing recyclability was the whole reason Starbucks removed straws with a big hullabaloo.

This is par for the course for the poorly named "Reason," which pushes a wishful thinking philosophy that unregulated markets solve all problems. https://reason.com/blog/2016/11/18/is-climate-change-already...


Even if everything you say is true, the vast majority of starbucks customers either use the drive-through or leave the building with their cups. At that point, it's likely going in that residential recycling that you say is often thrown out wholesale.

Instead of ditching the straw, they should switch to a cardboard straw that is biodegradable.


They leave the drivethrough and go to work, which also uses a commercial waste management company.

In either case, the article's throwaway dismissal of the whole reason Starbucks removed disposable straws to begin with is lazy and misleading. A correct analysis would thoroughly analyze the recycling end.


Where I used to work, the garbage guy put it all in the same truck, going to the dump. I asked why. "They didn't raise my pay to go to the recycling center. They want me to do it 'after work' on my own time. Fuck that."


Did you raise it with your employer? Your employer has a contract woth the waste management company for a particular service. If it is not providing that service, your employer can take its business elsewhere. If your past employer was in California, it could have been out of compliance with the state's mandatory commercial recycling law. http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/recycle/commercial/


It was an employee of the company. No 'waste management service'.


Then your company itself was out of compliance with the law (if it was in California).


I’d rather not have a straw at all than attempt to drink out of another cardboard straw. Those things fall apart and collapse before I can finish my drink, and they make the drink taste like paper. If straws are a matter of convenience, paper straws are certainly not IMO.

Coincidentally I think the last time I used a cardboard straw was at the Mumbai airport Starbucks. Maybe that was a test site for doing what you suggest.


I can't recycle pizza boxes? Our recycling bins are mixed anyway (glass, paper, plastics, aluminium). Why "discard the batch"? Aren't they already sorting them?


In Boulder the recommendation is to add pizza boxes to the city-collected compost. This is even better than recycling since compost is more likely to be handled locally.


It has to do with oils from the pizza being soaked into the cardboard.


My dad has an idea to employ criminals to sort recycling from trash. It seems almost inhumane, but maybe if we gave them Starbucks gift cards, it would be better.


Why can't straws be made of recyclable or degradable plastic?


Physics. From the article:

Compostable straws cost six to seven times more than their plastic alternatives, don't keep for long, and fall apart when exposed to high heat

Consider that the recycleable lid isn't immersed in hot coffee.


> Consider that the recycleable lid isn't immersed in hot coffee.

Are any kind of straws? I had no idea people are using straws with hot drinks.


`lid`


Hot drinks at Starbucks already don't use straws, so I'm not sure if the high heat thing matters.


So how does this work? https://www.vegware.com/

I drank my hot coffee out of one today.


It probably costs significantly more.


So why can't we have compostable straws that degrade in 5-10years rather than 5-10 months?


Because compostable materials taste terrible.


Paper doesn't taste terrible to me, but plastic does.


Compostable is a different thing from recyclable.


Compostable essentially means that "something eats it", at some point. Recyclable means it's easily converted back into a raw material. Thus, compostability implies non-toxicity.


Compostability doesn't imply non-toxicity, as toxicity is relative to the organism. Something can be toxic to humans but not to the bacteria that break it down. There are plenty of things that are toxic to humans that are compostable.

But what does toxicity have to do with what I said?


This article is rather cranky and make two assumptions: 1) that plastic is often trashed, not recycled, and it assumes that we will never fix that. 2) exemptions will not be made for people with disabilities.

Also, would compostable straws be an option? (assuming they do not end up in the landfill, and only distributed on demand to reduce waste).

Fast food better fix itself, or we will end up demonizing the entire industry, for its abundance of litter all over the place and subsidizing the cleanup.


> 1) that plastic is often trashed, not recycled, and it assumes that we will never fix that.

I'm sorry to say, but recycling plastic doesn't work all that well. I believe one problem is that straws couldn't be recycled (and I think these lids can?), but then the next problem is, who is going to recycle all this plastic [0] and what is the recycled product going to be? You can't make a new lid out of an old on, unfortunately.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17368168


It doesn't make much sense from a purely scientific point of view, however, banning straws, much like banning plastic bags, is an efficient way to raise awareness and minimize inconvenience, to encourage people to re-examine their habits. (and I say "ban", but where I'm from, we can still get one for 10 or 20 cents, depending on the type of bag, and there are many exemptions, such as for meat)

If we argue in favour of the status quo, which we know is broken too, waiting for a perfect solution, then absolutely nothing will change.

There are easy ways to fix the recycling crisis, but it also means changing some habits.


Even if they are trashed, does it even matter unless they make it into the ocean? It's not like any continent has a shortage on wasteland to build more landfills in.


to be honest, I would prefer we find more ways to reduce what is going to the land fill. I have to make a trip with my father soon and it is amazing what we have no alternative other than just dumping it all.

the chemical cocktail we are burying as a world is just amazing, all those cleaning chemicals, used oils, paints, and more. I know some regions tried incineration and I would like to think it is more environmentally friendly than simply burying it.


I mean, burning something can remove the problem locally, but then anyone that relies on air to breathe has to deal with whatever chemicals have been released.

I'm not trying to side on, "let's just bury everything", but as a thought experiment:

Would you rather be in a room where there's a plastic line trash can filled with a variety of trash, or in that same room, where that trash is currently on fire?

Think about it this way: If CO2 had a color and producing it by driving a car would lead to purple billowing smoke, cars wouldn't exist, I don't believe. But because it's invisible, we also think the problem is invisible. Sort of like burning trash.

At least with a landfill, we see, "Guh, that's just a big pile of trash! That's gross!"


Incineration releases all those chemicals into the environment immediately. Whereas in a landfill, decomposition can be minimised (for example by sealing all the waste in an oxygen free atmosphere)


Modern incinerators are in much higher temperture. When well managed -- by keeping the temperature right-- most of chemicals are broken down before emittion.

Landfill contaminate ground water. There are no good way to fix. Water-proof layers have problem with rain. Building a sewage system open another can of worms.

Sealing... I have no idea how can you seal this amount of land.


> Also, would compostable straws be an option? (assuming they do not end up in the landfill, and only distributed on demand to reduce waste).

There are no options that are suitable for disabled people.

I'd recommend following Lawrence Carter-Long (he manages the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund) on Facebook; he's made a number of public posts about it lately, and the comments on his posts tend to be very good.

Here's the text of one of his posts:

> FACT: A soggy paper straw increases the risk of choking. Most paper and silicone alternatives are not flexible, eliminating arguably the most important feature used by people with mobility disabilities. Metal, glass and bamboo straws present obvious dangers for people who have difficulty controlling their bite, as well as those with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s. Some disabled folks use straws when drinking coffee or eating soup, yet most of the alternatives--including the leading biodegradable straw--are not suitable for drinks over 40°C/104°C. Furthermore, re-useable straws are not always hygienic or easy to clean in public places.

And here's a comment he made on another of his posts:

> 1. Glass straws can break. That's dangerous. For everyone.

> 2. Metal straws don't always adapt to temperature changes well. And can burn people.

> 3. At present, paper and biodegradable straws often break down faster than a lot of disabled folks can use 'em. A straw isn't much use when it is falling apart.

> 4. Reuseable straws are useful only if and when you can wash them right after using and if you have a way to store them. They also have to be easy for folks to carry with them every time they leave the house. Not possible for everyone.

> 5. What if you decide on the spur of the moment to go have a drink with friends after work but forgot your reusable straw that day? Doesn't leave a lot of room for spontaneity -- something non-disabled folks get to largely take for granted.


> There are no options that are suitable for disabled people.

Here's an article from a disabled person, who breaks down the (as they say, mostly-online debate) of disabled people and reusable straws. They then test a variety of options:

https://themighty.com/2018/05/review-reusable-drinking-straw...

I really am not understanding the problem. If the goal is to reduce single-use plastic and waste, allowing disabled people to use whatever the hell the want/need to do normal everyday tasks isn't incompatible.

Just allow restaurants to have some straws for people who ask for them, and clearly have a right to use them (pass/amend a law if you have to).

Done.


In practice, whenever there is a special exemption for disabled people, it imposes costs on them. It's another obstacle to request accomodations, but also it incurs the risk of public shaming if someone decides that you don't deserve them: https://twitter.com/beth_vrabel/status/993691472766668801?la....

As with web accessibility, where possible, the best solution is to make the solution that is given to all the rest of us the same solution that disabled people are given. Sometimes we can't do that (e.g. special handicapped spots near the extrance to a building are valuable), but that shouldn't be our standard approach.


In addition, it also forces disabled people to out themselves in cases where their disability isn't particularly visible, which can be humiliating for people who don't want the whole world to know exactly how their body is malfunctioning.

For example, here's a comment on one of the posts on Lawrence Carter-Long's Facebook page:

> Not an answer to your question, but I wanted to report to you in case it's useful for your media appearances (and thank you for being our spokesperson!): Yesterday I was at an upscale restaurant, one of my favorites where I have dined countless times before. I ordered a ginger ale and they brought it in a glass with ice, no straw. I asked our server, politely of course, for a straw when she had a chance. She replied "Actually we are doing a no straw policy now. It's better for the earth" (or something along those lines). After a little bit more about eco stuff, during which I was just kind of in shock, she then added, "but if you want one, you can ask for it," which was said in quite an unfriendly voice although up until that point she had been a very smiley, friendly server. I replied "As a disabled person who needs a straw, I am going to request one." and then she brought one. But it was very uncomfortable and everyone at my table agreed that while we all supported having an "opt-in" policy, once I had asked for a straw, the policy should be to bring one rather than trying to basically "eco-shame" people out of asking. My disability, a genetic connective tissue disorder, was not visible to the waitress, but it means that when drinking from a glass, especially with ice, I have trouble swallowing without using a straw. Without a straw I am likely to choke, splutter, and/or spill my drink down my front. I felt humiliated and angry that I had to out myself as disabled in order to get the straw I asked for. Please feel free to use this story in your interviews if it's useful, and if not, thanks for listening to me vent!


Then I don't know what you want to do: are we just going to live in a world where plastic straws need to exist?

In the long run, that doesn't work well for ANYONE.


Yeah, that sounds fine to me.

This would be a reasonable objection if plastic straws were going to drastically change our impact on the environment. If we were a near zero-emission, zero-waste society, and plastic straws were the last thing holding us back from sustainability on a thousand-millions of years time frame, then maybe we should force the issue.

But until then, making life harder for disabled people in order to make a tiny dent at the edges of the pollution our society creates is not worth it.


Then I would have to disagree with your point of view as marginal gains in a lot of different areas in all our lives (tiny dents, as you say) is how we're going to change things, barring a deus ex machina massive breakthrough in technology, which - I'm not going to hold my breath.

One could use the, "I'm not given up x, until y is reached" for almost anything that's a contemporary convenience or luxury. That's stymies most any progress.

If the problem is people's view on disabled people, then we need to change people's view. If right now, we can get rid of plastic, single-use straws, except for disabled people, then to me: that sounds like a very reasonable compromise to marginally remove new plastic from the environment.


There's a difference between asking everyone in society to give up something equally small (this was arguably true of the restrictions on incandescent bulbs that went into effect roughly ten years ago), and putting a disproportionate burden on people who are already disadvantaged and actively discriminated against.

My point isn't "never do anything small", it's "find something else to do that doesn't hurt people who really deserve better".


You're framing plastic straws as an inalienable right.

I'm saying we can live without them; we did before and for most of recorded human history.

This isn't an impossible problem to solve.


For much of human history, we let disabled people die, murdered them as children, or treated them like animals.

Any appeal to what we did for most of human history is worthless. The question is, given modern technology, how can we do best for all of us?


> pass/amend a law if you have to

Are we going to need a handicap placard to get a straw with our drink ?


Perhaps coming up with the exact details of a complex law is the beyond the pale of a simple, half-implemented internet forum.

Making the process to concede special privilege to those with needs beyond others or those with certain disabilities in a dignified way seems like a righteous use of time to write correctly and fairly to me.


What does he say about biodegradable plastic straws? The company I work for enjoys signalling its ecological awareness, and so they offer disposable compostable plastic cups. They work for hot coffee just fine, so the material should be as good for straws.


I saw an ad for a reusable straw that folded up and attached to your keychain on instagram. It was still too large for a keychain in my opinion though.


The article also mentions compostable straws.


...or we will end up demonizing the entire industry...

Probably the best thing that could happen for our health?


If Starbucks really cared about plastic in the environment, they would offer and encourage patrons to use glass cups when drinking inside the cafe, which can be washed.

Maybe even offer a 10 cent discount for using the glasses.



Eh, they kinda do. My local Starbucks only has a handful of “for here” mugs for hot drinks, and nothing for iced drinks. The mugs are mainly for show as you must know to ask for one. Plus you know they don’t want to create glasses to clean.

To add: I used to bring my own reusable cup, but more times than not, they’d make my drink in a disposable plastic cup, then pour it into my mug, and immediately toss the disposable cup. Now I mainly make my coffee at home using a moka pot. Saves money and plastic. I still buy Starbucks when I travel, and just feel bad about the wasted plastic.


I was a Starbucks Barista for awhile in college. I'd try to use peoples mugs when possible. But so much of the process is designed around that cup. Your name is written on it, the exact ratio of ingredients is measured in it. It fits in the machines well.

Starbucks really needs to reinvent the whole process for people who bring their own mugs. Like having a reusable Maker cup behind the counter or something.


Why not just sell a reusable that is the same size and put a sticker on it for writing?


You are right! That totally solves the problem, and we do sell them!

https://www.amazon.com/Starbucks-Reusable-Travel-Coffee-Tumb...

But most people want a coffee mug that looks like an Elephant or has a Batman handle. They don't understand the value in paying $10 for something that looks like a disposable cup.


But does sbux give the workers stickers to use so they can write on them? How do you label them in store?


ahhh... Good point. We actually don't write on them. So the barista will call out "Green Tea Latte in a Reusable Cup" instead of your name.

And we just tell each other what the drink should be. It works fine when its only a couple drinks like that, but if everyone brought reusable mistakes would happen.

Maybe they have a better sticky note solution now, it's been a while since I worked there.


Many locations sell the $2 reusable cup - it pays for itself after 200 uses. And they can be found on Amazon at various prices[0].

But this is incompatible with online ordering, and who has an extra 10 minutes to wait in line? Could they have some kind of reusable cup service, where you could get a reusable cup with your order? Then return it next time - kinda like milk delivery.

[0]https://www.amazon.com/Starbucks-Reusable-Travel-Coffee-Gran...


Yeah, they sell reusable containers (as you have found).

They could go the way of the plastic bags in supermarkets and frame it as a "cup tax" like cities do.

Or, erm, I guess that would be the city that does that.

Boulder has the Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax, but I don't think a Frappuccino is taxed, even though it's calories come from mostly sugar.


They could use paper cups or even Bioplastics, although those have some pretty negative findings in a few reports.


They do use paper cups in hot drinks; only cold drinks use plastic - although both use plastic tops, and cold drinks use straws. I'm sure there's some sort of coating on the paper cup.

I'm not sure why cold coffee served in plastic... but it may be a flipped problem - you probably don't want to serve hot coffee in plastic, as the chemicals will leach out of the plastic itself (yum)


The paper cups have plastic linings which makes them hard to recycle at most places.


In there they say "we have experienced challenges in consistently executing and tracking our for here serveware use in stores", so the new goal is "customer brings the container".


4 months ago, Starbucks announced they were developing a compostable cup.

> Starting today, Starbucks is committing $10M in partnership with Closed Loop Partners and its Center for the Circular Economy to establish a groundbreaking consortium to launch the NextGen Cup Challenge. This is the first step in the development of a global end-to-end solution that would allow cups around the world to be diverted from landfills and composted or given a second life as another cup, napkin or even a chair – anything that can use recycled material.[0]

Other Seattle coffee shops use compostable coffee cups. Microsoft[1] and UW have for over a decade. I'm not sure what further innovation is needed. Here is a wholesale distributor of compostable coffee cups and soup bowls.[2]

[0] https://news.starbucks.com/news/starbucks-and-closed-loop-to...

[1] https://www.seattletimes.com/business/microsoft-switches-to-...

[3] http://greenstaurant.com/pages/utensils/hotworld.html


This would definitely result in less plastic waste.

My concern though, is that it results in needing wash more dishes with clean water, a precious and vital resource, so I don't know how to tell if the net exchange is good or bad.


Did they "ban" plastic straws, or did they simply stop using them? Maybe my idea of that word is too strict or not with the times.

I know, it doesn't make for an exciting headline. Though I would have liked the sound of "Starbucks doesn't want you to know about this technique for drinking your coffee."


You can ban something without being a government. However Starbucks actually said[1] "Starbucks to Eliminate Plastic Straws Globally by 2020". You could argue that Starbucks have banned the sale of plastic straws in their shops, but they are probably not banning the use of them, should a customer bring one in from outside.

[1] https://news.starbucks.com/press-releases/starbucks-to-elimi...


Recycling of some plastics may be more of a 'feel good' activity, at this point, then of real utility. There is no guarantee that these will be recycled, either. Consumers are used to dumping disposable, one-use cups in the trash. Even plastics that are recycled often find their way to the landfill. Plastics that are recycled can usually not be reused for the same purpose, and eventually do end up in the landfill. The new sippy cup lid is made of polypropylene, which is recyclable but expensive to do as it requires separating. Not all cities accept PP plastics for recyling. It typically needs to be combined with mostly virgin plastic to make new products, which are often less recyclable.

Is this better than the straws? Seems like it. But it would be a whole lot better to actually reduce the quantity of plastic.


I can't tell if it's mass insanity or a deliberate distraction campaign to focus on plastic drinking straws. If you look at what percentage these make up in single stream recycling or general waste it is really tiny. This is different from plastic carrier bags, which despite their tiny proportion of the mass and volume of waste it is still a bigger proportion than drinking straws, but more importantly it can escape waste management systems and pollute widely due to being so light and the impact is higher because of the effects from the material's large surface area. I think drinking straws is just an easy target for environmental PR signalling.


Articles like this - https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/150817-sea-turtl...

On one hand, yes, it is silly to put so much focus on disposable straws. On the other hand, it's such a low hanging fruit and should be so easy to get rid of. There's just no need for them in 99.9% of cases, and they're simply thrown in a pile to sit for 10000 years after spending 15 minutes in a drink.


It may have 0 environmental impact, but at least it's a step in the right direction for reversing our 'disposable society'. Really, though, if you're that concerned about the environment and you JUST HAVE TO HAVE STARBUCKS... bring your own re-usable mug. That's a thing, too.

Also, the paper straw claim is pretty dubious. The nearest pizza place to my office has been using paper straws for months. Never had one "collapse" mid drink, even after an hour or more. The author is resorting the the pseudo-journalistic "people are saying" technique to make a BS argument. I'm a person, and I'm saying paper straws are just fine! Why not "quote" me in the article?!?


You mind sending over the brand name of these non-collapsing paper straws? I've tried dozens and have yet to find a suitable alternative to plastic. And I love that when you order samples, the box of 12 straws comes in plastic packaging that is also shrink-wrapped.

There are some pretty robust bamboo straws, but they have the same displeasing mouthfeel.



The paper straws really are terrible. They've started popping up here in Vancouver even though I'm not sure the ban has fully taken effect yet (I still see plastic straws some of the time). They're bad enough that my response is just to stop ordering drinks that need a straw (anything with a lot of ice in and other cocktail type ingredients like fruit). The idea of reusable straws is so laughably bad I wonder how anyone can seriously propose it as an alternative.


I agree with you on paper straws. Reusable stainless steel straws for on-premises consumption is very feasible. Bars have been doing it for many years. The only real problem is that they're very popular and get stolen as a matter of course and they don't wash well when run through ordinary dish. These seem to be reasonably easy problems to solve through incentive and simple equipment.


Reusable straws for a bar could work where they provide them and clean them. I was criticizing the idea of "bring your own" reusable straws which people offer up as an alternative. Hygiene is a major concern there, as you say they're hard to clean without special equipment. On premises reusable straws also doesn't solve the Starbucks problem for to-go drinks.


This reminds me of the big push for biodegradable plastics made from corn. Should be better for the environment, right?

Well it turned out that the energy requirements were so high to create the plastic that it actually used more oil than regular plastic.[1] It's not until we reach a much higher rate of renewable energy does it actually make sense.

[1]https://www.mcdb.ucla.edu/Research/Goldberg/HC70A_W03/pdf/Gr...


The push for compostable plastics is a reasonable response to the insane amount of plastic waste that ends up in the oceans and elsewhere, despite the prevalence of recycling programs.

Using more energy is a fair trade even if it's sourced from hydrocarbons initially. It wouldn't be much of a stretch for a compostable plastics company to use "made with 100% renewable energy" as a selling point.


It's similar to paper vs plastic bags. Paper bags require more energy and fresh water making them worse for the environment.


That claim probably depends on where they're made...


I like the big picture thinking in this article. There is an aspect not covered in it or in the conversations: littered straws. For litter its better to have a larger lid than a smaller one and a straw.

I pick up litter at a nearby creek. Most straws tend to very quickly break down in a brittle way into smaller pieces that become increasingly much more difficult to see and pick up. If I see a glass bottle or a straw, that is an immediate pick up to avoid it getting broken down further.


It's not a controversial viewpoint that single-use plastics are killing the planet, both in using up a very limited resource and flooding our oceans and foodchains with plastic debris.

Why are they single use? Because they're commercially cheaper to throw away and replace. So straight away, if we're going to legislate anything, it should not be that you cannot use plastics, or a centrally collected tax... It has to a requirement that you pay for the collection and recycling of any plastic your business uses. Start requiring that and you'll see many of the single-use plastic bullshit packaging vanish overnight.

Starbucks are making these new lids out of polypropylene. Unlike a straw a lid is very easy to wash and PP suits this just fine. A clear PP is also a lot more valuable to recycling as it is purer, and easier to use than a dark green PP (or polystyrene, I'm not sure what Starbucks are currently using).

Should also add that the ~"omg think of the disabled children" comment is ridiculous. People who need straws to drink will a) carry reusable straws with them and b) still be able to get alternative material straws from Starbucks. I've used both wax paper and cellulose straws. They're both fine in cool drinks.


I have an idea for an alternative to plastic straws. Maybe someone can create a startup based on it? If you do, don't remember to throw me a bone in terms of money and stock.

There's a plant called "horsetail", which is one of the earliest plants that still happens to exist to this day.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equisetum

Horsetails are very simplistic; basically, they're mostly hollow shoots. Very thin, but rigid and fairly durable. They can vary in size depending on species, but the ones I've seen growing in California happen to be straw-sized.

I imagine they can be easily reamed, dried on rods so that they keep their shape, and then cut and packaged.

Of course this is hypothetical, so I don't know if it would really work, but I also don't know if this has been tried.


They already have compostable "plastic" cups, I assume straws aren't that much harder to make.


I have a co-worker who is Chinese. He has his own set of stainless steel chopsticks. Could we not apply a similar logic to straws, i.e. buy and bring your own?

The straws they sell at head shops are a bit too short IMHO.

Designer straws, the official fad of 2019.


A few of my local coffee shops are now using compostable cups and lids [1]. The problem is that there is nowhere to dispose of them. Quite a few of the rubbish bins now have general waste and recyclable waste sections, but it would be great if compostable waste bins became more common. Someone like Starbucks getting behind this would help increase the adoption.

[1] https://www.vegware.com/


Seems like it would be better to incentivize people to use their own mugs. At my local coffee shop if you use your own mug when you purchase a drink they give you a little wooden 'nickel'. They have a series of jars on the counter, each representing a local charity. You drop your wooden nickel into the jar of your choice and they donate a nickel to that charity.


That has to be the straw on the camel's back.


>Cups for cold drinks still entirely made of plastic

>Bans a straw

Bravo, SBUX


The cups/lids are recyclable and the straws weren't/aren't.


I certainly don't recycle them at home. The recycling bin at any Starbucks gets dumped straight into the trash.


Do you have a reference for that claim? Starbucks seem to claim that this is true for some stores[1], however that same document also implies that some stores _do_ recycle.

[1] https://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/environment/recycli...


A Starbucks employee who takes the trash out, who I was jokingly asking if she was going to dump the recycling in the recycling bin. Since people throw just as much trash in there, obviously not.


> I certainly don't recycle them at home.

Well, that isn't Starbucks' fault.

If the cups _were_ made of bioplastic (or similar), I don't think your "approach" would be any better than it is. As far as I understand it, bioplastics need to be exposed to light/air in order to decompose. If they're sealed in a landfill, there's no benefit to be had -- until the landfill is breached.


There's nothing wrong with an inert substance in a landfill.


Future generations will probably disagree with that statement.


Um, no, they'll be quite happy that the garbage has been centralized in one place.


But if they actually cared they do something like use a cornstarch cup and make sure they're composted. Or they would guarantee to recycle all their own plastics left in their bins.


Obligatory Penn & Teller recycling-is-bullshit episode: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0771119/

As long as plastic disposables actually are disposed of we're in no danger of running out of landfill room. Plastic saved from omitting straws in negligible, this is greenwashing at its silliest. The energy and labor spent separating and recycling most plastics has worse environmental impact than the benefit from plastic saved and re-used.


Obligatory Penn is a fundamentalist libertarian hack who irrationally doesn't believe in climate science.

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Penn_%26_Teller:_Bullshit!#Rec...


So if straw bans are not about saving the environment, what are they really about?

Perhaps they reflect the relative power of the class that eats in restaurants that serve drinks in regular glasses vs those that gets their drinks in paper mugs with a straw?


They're recyclable, but consumers don't always recycle. The 3 Rs start with Reduce, but we cannot as long as so much junk plastic continues to be manufactured. Plastics make it possible.


They are not recyclable in my area (served by Waste Management).


Why not just switch to compostable plastics - CLA and PLA are virtually indistinguishable to customers and not that much more expensive.


Nothing says virtue signaling harder than forgoing plastic straws while selling your drinks in plastic cups with 20x the plastic.


So they should make new lids from paper (not plastic), like they did for the straws


thin bamboo straws may be the answer (and a nice startup idea)

...oh never mind a google search shows someone else is doing that :(


[flagged]


It gets pretty easy to lose your political compass when groups that you don't like start gaining momentum on a cause. In this case reason.com (free market will solve everything) is very opposed environmentalists (we need government to regulate what big business does to protect the environment). Now environmentalists were able to kick start a movement, hey look straw is in this turtle's nose, and the desired result is to get some big legislation passed to further their cause that would even go beyond the scope of banning straws. Now if this happens reason.com could clearly argue against the causes without compromising their thesis; however, in the meantime a free market solution happened quickly that is in line with the group that they don't like, so instead of arguing their thesis (see we don't need legislation, the free market decides)they are arguing against the groups they oppose.

You can see this happen often from both the left and the right.


Just FYI, this is a link to a Reason article, which has a very specific partisan leaning.

The mistake in this article is that the tops are recyclable plastic, and straws are not. While straws are 0.2-0.5g lighter, the plastic is worse.


It's hard to really call that a "mistake" in the article, since the article mentions it. It says:

> The new lids are recyclable, while the plastic straws the company currently uses are not.

>

> 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. The company did not address, nor did it dispute, that its transition

> to strawless lids would increase its overall plastic consumption.

Not expressing a view about whether those follow-up claims are correct, just noticing that this wasn't a mistake/oversight by the article.


>Not expressing a view about whether those follow-up claims are correct, just noticing that this wasn't a mistake/oversight by the article.

It actually sounds like the article writer came up with a juicy "gotcha" headline and wrote most of the article, happened upon some information that undercut their premise, but decided to sloppily hand wave it away so they could publish anyway.


How else would one write an article which people might try to refute with misconceptions? I'm trying to imagine a version of this story that would satisfy the critics.


I'd imagine that version of the story would have some statistics about how much of the recyclable plastic in current lids gets recycled and what the ratios of drink order sizes are for drinks that are getting the new lids. Then it would do the math and show the actual difference we should expect to see in how much non-recycled plastic Starbucks will generate.


That would be a good article. Though I think a similar evidentiary burden exists for Starbucks in order to claim a net reduction.


Yeah, this is not a clear win or loss for Starbucks until someone does the math.


It also doesn't cite a source for its claim that most plastic in the oceans is microplastics, especially in the Garbage Patches. According to https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/03/great-pacific-ga... a majority of it is abandoned fishing gear. On the other hand, straws do pollute beaches. https://web.archive.org/web/20130813151717/http://www.oceanc...

There are a couple of decent points in the article though they are buried at the end. Disabled people are going to be at even more of a disadvantage if straws are not available. And a real cleanup might depend more on helping other countries with their waste disposal systems than on anything we can do ourselves.


Did the article not mention the lids are recyclable? The article I read did.


Cititation needed for myself, but most of current plastic straws, even if they don’t look it, are recyclable.


They absolutely are not recyclable[0] [1]. Almost all curbside programs and most commercial programs will treat straws as "contaminants".

Plus they have additional problem of causing significant wildlife impact.

[0] - https://livegreen.recyclebank.com/because-you-asked-what-s-s...

[1] - https://earth911.com/home/food-beverage/recycling-mystery-pl...


Waste Management doesn't accept them, at least not here in Rochester NY. I checked.


I'm not sure there's a journalism outfit left without some degree of partisan bent.


The size of that partisan (or in Reason's case, ideological more than partisan) bent varies enormously.


Of the major outlets only Fox News has a clearly partisan bent.

There are many ideological rags (Reason is Libertarian, Jacobin is Socialist, etc.)

But the majority of major news sources are non-partisan and non-ideological to the point of giving undue weight to completely foolishness just because the foolishness benefits a certain party. They have systemic biases, owing to being staffed largely by elite educated urbanites with close proximity to power. That's different from being partisan. Where parties are concerned this bias tends to cut against them both in different ways.


This is correct. A news outlet isn't partisan if it treats evolution and climate change as real things without "teaching the controversy," despite what fair and balanced Fox or unreasonable Reason would have you believe.


How come straws aren't recyclable? Is that type of plastic unusable unusable in straws?


My understanding is they're too small for most recycling facilities - they get sorted as contamination/debris.


https://news.starbucks.com/news/starbucks-announces-environm...

Perhaps using more or less plastic is not the point. The point is whether the waste would be recyclable or not. The title seems like a click bait.

“By nature, the straw isn’t recyclable and the lid is, so we feel this decision is more sustainable and more socially responsible,” said Chris Milne, director of packaging sourcing for Starbucks.




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