Why the UK is Moving Towards a Plastic Straw Ban

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. Please always consult a knowledgeable professional advisor.

You may have noticed all the news articles about a plastic straw ban lately. The small, seemingly harmless utensil that goes generally unnoticed in your everyday life is a regular on most environmentalists most-wanted list.

If it’s surprising to hear that plastic straws are receiving backlash, it may be even more surprising to hear that, according to a 2017 study from researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a whopping 91 percent of the plastic we use is not recycled and instead ends up in landfills or the ocean.

Because of statistics like that, some counties and corporations are starting to make efforts to fight pollution. As part of those efforts, they are proposing to cut back on or ban plastic straws in the UK.

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As of October 2018, the UK Government set out its plan to ban the distribution and sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds. It seems that Brits are on board with the plastic straw ban, as a government consultation found that 80 percent of respondents backed the ban of plastic straws in the UK.

Among corporations jumping on board the single-use plastic ban is Starbucks. As one of the first globally recognised brands to announce it will be moving away from plastic straws, Starbucks will be switching to compostable straws and will release a new straw-less drink lid design on its regular cold-drink cups.

McDonald’s in the UK has already begun the process of removing plastic straws from its stores and set a goal to have 100 percent of its food and beverage packaging materials be made from renewable or recycled sources by 2025.

These big cities and large corporations are taking action and embracing the single-use plastic ban in the UK, which helps to bring attention to the issue and start a conversation about how harmful plastic straws, and plastic as a whole, are to the environment.

Moving away from plastic straws is undoubtedly good for the environment, but it may present some challenges for business owners. Learn more about the plastic straw ban, what their environmental impact is, and what your options are when it comes to finding the right alternative for your business.

Why straws?

Based on the amount of media attention plastic straws are getting, it may be surprising to hear they are not the leading type of plastic waste. That record goes to food wrappers and containers, which account for about 31 percent of all plastic pollution. They are followed by plastic bottle and container caps at 15.5 percent, plastic bags at 11.2 percent, and then finally plastic straws and stirrers at 8.1 percent.

The main reason cited for eliminating plastic straws, along with the single-use plastic bag ban, is their negative impact on our oceans and marine wildlife. Plastic in the ocean is a huge problem — look no further than Pacific Trash Vortex, or the viral video of a turtle suffering as a result of ocean pollution, to understand that. But of all the plastic that ends up in the ocean, straws make up only 4 percent of that waste.

So why the plastic straw ban? The problem is their size. They are small and inconspicuous. So much so that people often forget they are plastic and do not recycle them.

Straws that do get recycled often don’t make it through the mechanical recycling sorter because they are so small and lightweight, so they contaminate recycling loads or get disposed of as garbage.

A study by Statista on single-use plastic consumption in the United Kingdom showed that in 2017 alone 44.1 billion drink stirrers were used. What’s more eye-popping is that the same study estimates that the number would increase to 59 billion by 2030.

So, knowing that most straws, recycled or not, are likely to end up in our oceans, and knowing the number of straws being used every day, an EU single-use plastic ban can make a difference, not just locally, but globally.

How did we get here?

How did one small part of a very large problem kick off a movement that has inspired cities to ban plastic straws altogether?

Let’s start at the beginning.

Before there were plastic straws, there were paper straws. In fact, Marvin Stone created the very first straw by wrapping pieces of paper around a tube and gluing the pieces together. but once plastic production in America increased, people realised it was quicker and cheaper to produce plastic straws. Starting in the 1960s, plastic straw manufacturing took off.

From there, a number of large manufacturers started to produce plastic straws and other on-the-go convenient plastic items that were increasingly in demand. Quickly, the industry as a whole started producing more plastic, and by 2015 the world was producing 322 (292) million tons of plastic.

Now, we are faced with having to backtrack and try to reduce the damage that years of plastic overproduction has done by instituting a plastic straw ban.

The main problem is that, while convenient, plastic is not biodegradable — it does not break down into compounds (like carbon dioxide or water) that can be easily reused. Therefore, it takes years to break down plastic particles. Because of this, when plastic is not recycled and ends up in the ocean, it stays there, forever.

Based on an analysis of trash collected on U.S. coastlines during cleanups over five years, it was found that there are nearly 7.5 million plastic straws on America’s shorelines. There are figured to be about 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on the entire world’s coastlines. And since they are not biodegradable, they are not going anywhere.

So, while straws are a small place to start, movements like plastic straw bans bring attention to conversations about waste management and pollution. This movement can help people become more aware of the impact that everyday plastic products have on the sustainability of the planet. That can, hopefully, help us make progress in reducing the amount of plastic waste in the world.

That isn’t to say it will be an easy process. While the recent ban of plastic straws has been met with a lot of enthusiasm, communities that rely on plastic straws and use them regularly are worried about what these changes mean for them.

What’s the impact on communities and businesses?

While this move is undoubtedly good for the environment, the earth isn’t the only thing that will be affected.

As plastic straws have started slowly disappearing from everyday life, the UK has made an exception for people with disabilities. They will be able to make a special request in bars and restaurants or purchase them from registered pharmacies.

Still, many disabled people are worried about the possible struggle that a broad plastic straw ban could place on them in their daily lives. “I think it is going to be a huge inconvenience,” said Isaac Harvey, a filmmaker who was interviewed for the Each Other article. “Not everyone is able to go to the pharmacy,” he added.

And business owners who live in places with bans will also need to adapt to provide more sustainable options for their customers (while making sure that there are options for all their customers).

The original draw of plastic was how cheap it is to produce products on a mass scale. With the new plastic straw ban, businesses that once used cheap plastic straws are now having to adjust financially to the pressure from their customers and the world to provide alternatives, which could be more expensive.

What are the alternatives?

Luckily, plenty of sustainable brands were ahead of the single-use plastic ban by producing plastic-free alternatives.

Square seller Klean Kanteen — whose mission is to make the highest-quality reusable products on the planet to keep single-use waste from trashing the world — is excited that more businesses and consumers are moving away from plastic straws.

“It’s incredible to see this movement grow and reach the masses in the way that it has. The conversation and awareness has snowballed and we love it because the straws are introducing us to an entirely new audience,” said Brendan Fay, Klean Kanteen’s social media manager.

Sky Ocean Rescue also sells reusable water bottles and other environmentally conscious products to help you kick the plastic habit. Many are inspired and designed by celebrities, like Kate Moss.

Start by utilising social media, a great way to inform your customers how you are supporting the plastic straw ban and the environmentally safe alternatives you are using in your restaurant to replace plastic straws.
There are a handful of alternatives available today. The most popular include:

Compostable straws

With the plastic straw ban in the UK in full swing, the straw option you’ll likely start seeing the most in restaurants and from major food corporations is compostable straws that look and feel similar to the plastic straws you’re used to.

It is important to note that emerging research suggests that compostable plastic straw alternatives are not as eco-friendly as we thought. This is mainly chalked up to the fact that compostable straws do not biodegrade any quicker than traditional plastic straws unless they are disposed of in a commercial composter.

Cardboard and paper straws

Paper straws, such as Intrinsic paper straws, provide an eco-friendly alternative to plastic straws and come in an array of patterns, colours, and diameters.

Glass straws

While not the best for travelling, glass straws have also become a popular substitute with those looking to support the plastic straw ban. Companies like VASO have created both straight and bent glass straws in a variety of widths to provide options for people looking for alternatives.

Silicone straws

BPA-free silicone straws, made from food-grade silicone, are another straw alternative gaining popularity. Silicone straws, like the kind boobalou produces, are also a good option for children who can’t keep from chewing on their straws.

Metal straws

Due to how long they can last, metal straws are considered one of the most eco-friendly options for straw alternatives. Anything But Plastic sells reusable steel straws among other reusable products like stainless steel hot cups and water bottles.

It’s not just about straws

Having your business embrace the single-use plastic ban in the UK is a great start, but there are other ways you can move towards a more environmentally conscious business model Square point of sale can help mitigate paper waste from receipts by making sure your customers get a digital copy sent to their preferred email address. Plus, you can sell online greener alternatives to help your customers live their lives with less not-so-fantastic plastic.

If you own a café or restaurant, Square restaurant POS software can be set up to ask customers if they require straws or utensils for their delivery or pickup orders. This can help you not only cut down on unneeded expenses but also help your customers reduce their waste.

As a small business, it’s important that you also help lead the charge not just on the single-use plastic ban but also with other ways to help reduce waste overall.