When faced with paper or plastic, more businesses and their customers are saying, “Paper.”
The city of Seattle has banned single-use plastic straws and utensils from all of its 5,000 restaurants, as of July 1. Customers who specially request straws will receive compostable ones. It is believed to be the first city to take that measure.
“This applies to all food service businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores, delis, coffee shops, food trucks, and institutional cafeterias,” according to a statement by the office of Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan.
“In addition, businesses with customer disposal stations where customers discard single-use packaging must provide options to collect recyclable and compostable packaging in clearly labeled bins,” the statement added.
Smaller U.S. cities, including Malibu, Davis and San Luis Obispo, Calif., Seattle and Miami Beach and Fort Myers, Fla., have all banned or limited plastic straws. Food and beverage establishments have turned to paper, bamboo, metal and even glass to replace plastic straws.
The effort to ban plastic straws is slowly gaining steam. Seattle’s Canadian neighbor Vancouver will ban plastic drinking straws next year. Scotland also plans to end the use of plastic straws to help stop marine pollution. And Taiwan is also planing to ban plastic straws by 2030.
Other companies and cities have also discussed similar moves.
The cruise line Royal Caribbean RCL, +3.05% announced in June it will stop using plastic straws by the end of 2018. Guests who request a straw will get a paper one, starting in 2019. The furniture maker IKEA made a similar announcement this week: It will remove all single-use plastic products from its stores and in-store restaurants by 2020.
The retailer said it wants to be more “climate positive” and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as reduce its “footprint” on the Earth.
The call for more paper straws has also come from customers. An online petition entitled, “Starbucks, stop using plastic straws,” garnered nearly 139,000 signatures. In April, Starbucks SBUX removed all plastic straws from its U.K. locations. The British government said it would ban the use of plastic straws in restaurants by the end of this year.
New York City lawmaker proposes similar ban on plastic straws
Plastic — and plastic straws in particular — have been in the news in recent months. New York City Council Member Rafael Espinal introduced a bill in May that would ban restaurants and bars from giving customers plastic single-use straws. The only exception would be for customers who require plastic straws because of disabilities or medical conditions.
The penalty for violating the law would be $100, Espinal proposed. If the bill becomes law, the city wouldn’t start charging those fines until after a two-year grace period. “It’s no secret that we have a plastic problem,” he said. “Each day millions of plastic straws are used and discarded. With so many options available from paper to metal straws, we can make plastic a thing of the past.”
Espinal, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn, announced the proposal alongside environmental advocates including the Wildlife Conservation Society, Sierra Club and Oceanic Global. An estimated 100,000 marine creatures and 1 million seabirds die every year from plastic entanglement, Espinal said.
Espinal’s proposed bill will first need support from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio if it’s to move on to the City Council for a vote.
“Whether you are in Coney Island or Fiji, single-use plastic straws are a scourge on the world’s oceans,” said John Calvelli, the executive vice president for public affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society said. Whales, albatrosses and sea turtles can all be hurt by plastic, he said.
The proposed straw ban has support from members of the restaurant industry, including chef Tom Colicchio, owner of Crafted Hospitality Group, and Ann Redding, owner of Thai restaurant Uncle Boons in New York. In fact, some restaurants have already started switching to paper straws. Colicchio said his group is eliminating plastic straws from its full-service New York restaurants.
McDonald’s is phasing out environmentally unfriendly packaging
This is not the first effort to make restaurant food easier on the environment. McDonald’s MCD, +0.57% announced in January that by 2025 it will make 100% of its packaging for customers’ food from “renewable, recycled, or certified sources” in an effort to reduce waste. “Certified sources” refers to materials that come from natural sources, where no deforestation occurs.
The U.S. has one of the lowest recycling rates of any developed nation, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit based in New York.
Food waste and packaging are particularly a problem. Food, plus packaging — some, though not all, of which is used to contain food — make up about 45% of all the trash in U.S. landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And that all adds up: Americans throw out about $165 billion worth of food every year, according to NRDC.