Starbucks Corp. said Monday that it will eliminate single-use plastic straws from all of its locations within two years, becoming the largest food and beverage company to do so as calls for businesses and cities to cut waste grow louder.
Although plastic straws account for a small percentage of the pollution that ends up in the ocean, they have become a flashpoint because they're seen as an easy way to reduce waste.
A week after its hometown of Seattle banned plastic drinking straws and utensils, Starbucks said that by 2020, it will be using straws made from biodegradable materials such as paper, along with specially designed lids. The company already offers alternative straws in Seattle.
Other cities, such as Fort Myers, Fla., have banned plastic straws. Similar proposals are being considered in places such as New York and San Francisco.
The issue of waste is coming up more broadly in company boardrooms.
In February, Dunkin' Donuts said that it would eliminate polystyrene foam cups from its stores by 2020.
McDonald's said it would switch to paper straws in the United Kingdom and Ireland by next year and test alternatives to plastic straws in some U.S. locations. The burger chain also said this year that it would use only recycled or other environmentally friendly materials for its soda cups, Happy Meal boxes and other packaging by 2025.
Plastic drinking straws make up only about 4% of plastic trash by number of pieces, and far less by weight. Straws add up to about 2,000 tons of the nearly 9 million tons of plastic waste that ends up in waters worldwide each year.
Still, the advocacy group 5 Gyres says the five biggest sources of single-use plastic are plastic bags, water bottles, to-go containers, to-go cups and straws.
The strawless lids are set to begin to appear this fall in Starbucks outlets in Seattle and Vancouver, with phased rollouts within the U.S. and Canada to follow next year. A global rollout of the strawless lids will follow, beginning in Europe, where they will be used in select stores in France and the Netherlands, as well as in Britain.