As the general public becomes more aware of ecological issues and the importance of plastic recycling, there has been some resistance to the casual use of plastic, which pollutes the environment and can take centuries to decompose. Activists have claimed that single-use plastic drinking straws are not only wasteful, but add to the plastic compounds already polluting beaches, oceans and rivers.
As a result, the pub chain JD Wetherspoon recently changed its approach to plastic recycling by reducing the amount of plastic its pubs use. The firm has ceased automatically dispensing plastic straws when drinks were served on its premises. The chain stated that by the end of 2017, greener paper straws will be offered instead. A senior JD Wetherspoon executive said that the practice of giving out plastic straws significantly increased the need for plastic waste recycling, and while some customers liked them, many did not.
A campaign titled Refuse the Straw started in the US recently, and it encourages people purchasing drinks to say no to straws, and sip straight out of their glasses. The online movement is urging restaurants and bars to also change their business systems and stop giving out plastic straws, and celebrity fans of the campaign include the fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood.
The problem with plastic straws is that they are comprised of materials such as polystyrene or polypropylene, which cannot always go into a recycled plastic collection, and also takes many hundreds of years to break down. Millions of small plastic bottle tops, coffee cup lids and straws end up on landfill sites and in waterways. Most of these are only used for the few minutes it takes to consume a beverage.
Ms Westwood put a post on Facebook highlighting how little plastic in drinks ends up being collected by a plastic waste recycler, saying that much of it will end up polluting the world and its seas for centuries. This post was shared almost 300,000 times on social media.
At Wetherspoon pubs, some 70 million straws had previously been distributed to customers each year. Even bar staff had drawn attention to the vast amount of plastic recycling needed to deal with all these used straws.
The rival All Bar One chain uses some 4.7 million plastic straws annually. A marketing executive for the chain said that it plans to change its plastic waste recycling policy regarding the use of straws and significantly reduce the amount of recycled plastic waste.
Simon Ellin, who is the UK Recycling Association’s chief executive, said he didn’t think most people would care if straws were not placed in drinks and he felt most people would prefer to see less recycled plastic waste.
A representative from businesswaste.co.uk said it was reasonable to expect customers to pay for straws, much as they pay for plastic carrier bags in supermarkets, and suggested consumers could also say that they didn’t want straws in their drinks.
Plastic straws have been used in UK bars and restaurants for decades. Once, straws were made of rye grass, then paper was used. In the Seventies, plastic straws started to become popular. There have been claims that straws can make drinks taste better, and that using a straw for acidic, sugary drinks can help protect the teeth.