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Well, that was fast. Starbucks responds to consumer demand and eliminates plastic straws.

Starbucks: Walking the Walk

Whether you’re a fan of Starbucks or not, you can’t really argue with their success. They are a company with world-wide reach. They have almost 30,000 locations. They employ well over 200,000 individuals. And Starbucks banked a net income of $2.9 billion in 2017—and for good reason. They understand their consumers.

This understanding of their consumers might explain their recent announcement.

Plastic Straws: Public Enemy No. 1

In the past month, the public opinion of the single-use, plastic straws has seriously declined. It’s not as though the opposition to single-use plastic straws is new (I remember a 2015 video of a straw being un-lodged from a turtle’s nostril surfacing which truly opened my eyes to the issue). But the plastic straw issue has certainly been amplified in the past month thanks to a number of initiatives. Plastic Free July, for example, has been advocating for a straw-free (and fully plastic-free) month. We’re 11 days in, have you been living plastic free?

Despite being a known issue for years, it’s only recently stepped into the public spotlight. I haven’t been able to log onto social media, step into a restaurant, or talk with my friends without being reminded of this straw scandal (to be clear, I’m happy about this).

Well, only two days ago, Starbucks announced a plan to replace single-use plastic straws in it’s locations by 2020. And today, I watched a coworker come into work … with the new cup in hand.

Psh, Starbucks Would

Starbucks has not only taken the steps to eliminate plastic straws (I’ve actually seen a number of local restaurants go “straw-free,” a move which can essentially happen overnight). But Starbucks also introduced an alternative … within days of their announcement. If anyone could respond this quickly with a solution, it would be Starbucks.

Sure, it helps to be a global company grossing over $20 billion annually—they have the resources available to be able to make a change as swiftly as they did, and enough of a public following that an outcry can seriously influence their financials. Speaking of public outcry…

Perhaps it was the public outcry over Starbucks’ recent racist debacle that has them searching for all the good PR they can get. “What if we said we cared about turtles and the environment….people’d like that, right?”

Actually, yea. I, for one, care about businesses that strive to have a positive impact on the environment. So I am intrigued by Starbucks’ solution. Their new cup design replaces the straw and flat lid with a lid more akin to the hot-beverage lid (think grown-ass sippy cup … alas, without the handles or fun colors).

Whatever Starbucks’ motivation (and I would venture that altruism probably wasn’t as big of a factor as the economics of their decision, though I have admittedly zero intel on the matter), it’s encouraging to see the power of consumer demand and the responsiveness of businesses to accommodate such demands. And kudos to Starbucks for making this issue public and proposing a solution to the very real challenge of plastic waste.

The Encouraging Takeaway

There remains the issue that—although this solution eliminates the need for a straw, therefore reducing straw waste and the threat to wildlife—the new design still perpetuates demand for a single-use plastic cup and lid. So I don’t want Starbucks to just stop there. I hope they keep improving their product and service until we have fully compostable cups (if any disposables at all) and, ultimately, a significant reliance on personal, reusable travel cups. But if Starbucks can encourage other businesses to follow suit, the ripple effect could be inspirational.

So let us not forget: the power of the dollar is huge. The power of YOUR dollar is monumental! We can sometimes fall into a defeatist belief that we don’t have much ability to make a difference as individuals. Yet, we’re each a piece in the larger puzzle. So the ability of the eco-conscious and vegan community to affect change should not be discredited or underestimated! Take a stand for what you believe and together we can demand better from the world’s biggest brands and businesses.

More Straw-Free Resources

Looking for more information about the challenges with plastic straws? Do you want to know how you can eliminate plastic straws, or why you should? Check out some of these resources!


About the Author

Megan has been veg since June 2002. She is a passionate advocate for animal welfare, social justice, and environmental protection. When she’s not snapping photos of her food, spending time with her “vegan fam,” or writing about veganism, she’s exploring, she’s creating, and she’s working with residents and communities as an urban planner to shape the future of our towns and cities.

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