Plastic straws are becoming a less common sight when grabbing a drink at your local coffee shop.
One particular problem is they often end up in waterways, and when they break into smaller particles, they can release harmful chemicals into soil, air, and water.
The particles can also be ingested by marine animals, which can cause them significant health problems and sometimes enter the bodies of humans after eating seafood.
So when you look to buy a packet of paper straws but the packaging is made of plastic, it might leave you feeling a little annoyed because it would still cause a pollution risk.
For example, one Redditor posted a picture of a paper straw still wrapped in plastic to the r/ThereWasAnAttempt subreddit in 2022. Similarly, an older post with over 30,000 upvotes pointed out a selection of paper straws dipped in hard candy that were for sale in a Starbucks.
While the paper straw is definitely a welcome sight, the fact that both show just a single straw in a plastic package (unnecessarily large packaging, in the Starbucks case) makes the product seem a little less environmentally friendly than was perhaps intended.
Another user mocked the use of a paper straw in a plastic cup with a plastic drink stirrer piercing a lime.
“It defeats the purpose of the problem they’re trying to solve,” said one commenter.
“At least it’s not plastic in plastic,” said another.
And, to be fair, the latter commenter does have a point. Straws are typically made from polypropylene, which is extremely difficult to recycle and is not accepted in most plastic recycling collections.
The plastic bag, however, is likely to be recycled more easily, so at least the paper straw does make some difference in this case. This is all assuming the packaging gets disposed of correctly, of course.
One commenter had a thoughtful analysis: “Yes, this could be solved better, but it’s already a big step and does help the environment. A plastic straw requires at least as much plastic as the wrapping since it’s usually a lot thicker so it won’t immediately break.
“Unfortunately, plastic is one of the few materials that provide such a high standard of hygiene. … So, no, wrapping a paper straw in plastic is not as bad of a thing. Compared to before, they cut the use of plastic for the straws in half. Nonetheless we should work towards a solution that gets rid of the plastic entirely if possible.”
The over-the-top Starbucks post was uploaded five years ago, but Starbucks has since made further commitments to reduce waste.
The coffee brand has announced an intention to move away from single-use plastics, and the company is aiming to provide easy access to reusable cups to all customers by 2025.
Among the initiatives being introduced, the “Borrow a Cup” scheme serves drinks in reusable Starbucks cups that can be returned to a store, professionally cleaned, and can then be used again by other customers.
Elsewhere, a 100% reusable operating model trialed in South Korea helped avoid 200,000 single-use cups going to a landfill in just three months.
Hopefully, the straws and their counterproductive packaging remain a thing of the past, though.
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