The Last Straw: environmental movement calls for phasing out of straws

The plastic straw is the latest product to be in contention for a national ban, with McDonald’s vowing to phase out the straws in its 970 restaurants in Australia by 2020, trialling paper straws at two stores from August. Dscribe reporters Mitch Clarke and Shailin Brown investigate the future of plastic straws in Australia. 

Photo - PCFML (Positive Change For Marine Life)

It’s a welcome change for some, but just like the plastic bag bans at Woolworths and Coles, controversy is continuing to rise with people complaining about the inconvenience of sipping their coke through a paper straw. McDonald’s is riddled with plastics, from drink lids, spoons, ice cream and beverage cups to their fruit bags – so why is the straw being targeted?

According to Sustainability Victoria, plastic straws are one of the most common items found on beaches all over the world. Because they are manufactured from polypropylene, plastic straws cannot be recycled, and while they travel down conveyor belts at recycling facilities they often fall through the cracks due to their size, resulting in becoming landfill. As plastic is unable to biodegrade, it breaks down into smaller pieces over hundred of years. 

Sea Shepherd Australia state that 44% of marine mammals and 86% of turtle species are estimated to have plastic in their guts, with 80% of seabird species ingesting plastics. It’s estimated that by 2025 there will be enough plastic in the ocean to cover 5% of the earth’s entire surface in cling wrap each year. 

Dscribe reached out to McDonald’s who provided us with a statement which said it’s committed to phasing out plastic straws by working alongside local suppliers to find viable alternatives. 

“As one of the world’s largest restaurant businesses, we know we have the responsibility and opportunity to make significant change,” said Robert Sexton, McDonald’s Australia Director of Supply Chain.

“Together, with the global business, we have been working for some time to find appropriate alternatives.

“We know plastic straws is a topic our customers are passionate about and we will find a viable solution.”

Photo – Amelia Whelan/Facebook

Images and videos are washing up all over social media of usually idealistic beach settings being inundated with rubbish.  

In response, burger chain Grill’d has also announced that it is removing all plastic straws from its stores, but unlike McDonald’s, it has taken action immediately, removing straws from all stores across Australia. Grill’d took to social media to cheekily dig at the length of time McDonald’s will take to phase out the straws. 

Photo – Facebook

Zachary Fletcher from the marketing team at Grill’d told Dscribe that sustainability has been an evolving journey from the day it opened its doors in 2004.

“Our 4,000+ employees participated in a survey where they told us loud and clear that environment and sustainability are the issues closest to their hearts,” he said.

“It also makes sense for us, as we’ve always strived to create ‘burgers from a better place.

“We pride ourselves on our animal welfare claims, the quality of our fresh produce and our connection to the local community through Local Matters, so becoming more sustainable by looking at removing single-use plastics was a natural and easy step to take.”

Greenpeace Australia investigates and exposes environmental crimes and the people, companies and governments it says need to be held responsible. Using peaceful protest and creative confrontation, it supports McDonald’s plans.

“McDonald’s straw announcement is a step in the right direction, but the fast food giant must continue to scale up its ambition and move with urgency to rid its entire global operations of plastics straws and other single-use plastic that pollutes our oceans, waterways, and communities,” said Graham Forbes, Greenpeace’s Global Plastics Project Leader.

“The alternatives that McDonald’s trial should not come at the expense of the world’s forests and the communities that depend on them.”

Greenpeace also said McDonald’s needs to ensure that straws remain accessible for the disabled community who rely on straws to drink.

But not everyone is in support of the proposal. One Twitter user was not pleased, vowing to boycott the store if they removed plastic straws.

Boost Juice is currently trialling paper straws at its store in Chadstone and said it will extend this trial to ten more stores in August. In a statement, Boost said it’s committed to finding a sustainable alternative.

“We want to find the best possible alternative so our customers can still enjoy their smoothie with a straw that is robust, easy to drink from and lasts,” Boost said.

“As soon as we find a straw we are confident holds up in our smoothies we will roll this out, in place of our plastic straw, nationally.”

While McDonald’s will no doubt have the next couple of years to think over its environmental strategy, the journey towards sustainability is continuing at Grill’d.

“We are looking into improving our recycling processes in restaurants, on finding an environmentally friendly replacement for our chip dip cups, and improving our takeaway packaging,” Fletcher said.

“Currently, the paper and cardboard for our takeaway packaging, knife sleeves and Mini Me kids packs come from sustainably planted forests. For every tree cut down, another one gets planted in its place. In saying this, we are always on the hunt for new ideas and to reduce our environmental impact as much as possible.

“We would really love to see more food industry leaders take charge in the sustainability space, and hopefully our actions inspire others to do more, and to do better.”

Dscribe questioned 7/11 about whether it had any plans to remove plastic straws from its convenience stores. The company issued a media release which said that from Monday 30 July, plastic straws can now be recycled in 200 stores across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

“We believe we have a responsibility to take the lead and find a solution to plastic ending up in landfill,” said CEO Angus McKay.

“A problem this size requires multiple solutions and we want to drive a behaviour change and help people dispose of their takeaway cups and straws responsibly.”

“We encourage all Australians to recycle any brand of takeaway coffee cups or straws at the dedicated recycling bins.”

For those wanting to find an ethical replacement to straws, here are six alternatives.


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