Recently, Starbucks made headlines announcing that they are instituting a ban of plastic straws within all their stores by 2020. While this is great news for environmentalists, there's still a lot the general public needs to understand before this goes into full effect. If you want the straw ban to actually make the difference that it's being hyped up for, check out these five steps and get ready to take some real action.
1. Be sure to recycle both the cup and lid.
Yes, this is a very necessary step to include! While it's easy to advocate for and use recyclable options, so many people will toss their recyclable cup into the nearest trash bin without giving it a second thought. By throwing out your recyclable cup in a regular trash bin, you're undoing all of the good you originally initiated by choosing the recyclable option! So let me reiterate: please remember to actually recycle your cups!
2. Become knowledgeable in proper recycling techniques.
Any kind of container should be rinsed out before it gets tossed into the recycling bin, including drink cups and lids. Also, if you are drinking a Starbucks Frappuccino, which will continue to offer alternatives to plastic straws, do NOT throw the straw in the recycling! Both of these practices will help prevent contamination. If there's too much contamination (while rates vary slightly between areas, 15% contamination by non-recyclables is generally the limit) the entire bag of recycling will be discarded at the recycling plant.
3. Avoid using the drink stoppers.
If we're going to be serious about cutting down our single-use plastic consumption, it cannot only happen during the summer. I work at a chain store that sells Starbucks beverages in our cafe, and although we use the same cups, lids and straws as regular Starbucks locations, we do not have stoppers. I frequently get asked if we have stoppers, and when I say that we do not, I'm always met with, "That's okay, it's no big deal." So if it's really no big deal, why use them at all?
4. Contact your local government.
Check in with your local recycling center to see what plastics they accept. Starbucks cups and lids are currently #5 plastic, which is not accepted everywhere. And even where it is accepted, many local recycling programs within the U.S. are underfunded and not extensive enough to actually encourage recycling. Contact your local city and county representatives, and ask them to strengthen their recycling programs so that recycling is picked up frequently and more items are able to be recycled. Ask them to help arrange an event that will teach people about recycling, and what options are available at a local level. In addition, contact the school board and ask that they work in a recycling education program or assembly into a school day. Whatever you do, the bottom line is to make sure you get involved at a local level.
5. Ask Starbucks to continue offering plastic straws.
So here's the deal: after the idea of banning straws circulated the internet, it was soon met with backlash from the disabled community. Many disabled and elderly people rely on plastic straws to be able to drink at all. Starbucks currently plans on using paper or "compostable" plastic straws as a replacement but this will not be good enough. Paper straws will disintegrate too quickly and compostable plastic straws are not a sustainable option either, as they will only compost when they reach a certain temperature in a special, industrial facility. So instead, ask Starbucks to invest in research for sustainable options that will still be usable by the disabled community and until a new solution is found, to offer single-use plastic straws to customers who specifically request them.
The Starbucks straw ban has many more layers than what appears in the daily headlines. But to make it really effective, we have to remember that a small victory is not our cue to stop caring. We must drive ourselves to continually check our environmental footprints and make necessary adjustments if need be. We must always remember to include others in the conversation and advocate for those who cannot make the same adjustments that we are privileged to make ourselves. If we do this, then we may really change the world.