Starbucks has announced that it will not use disposable plastic straws in its 28,000-plus stores worldwide by 2020, a move that is expected to eliminate more than one billion straws a year. The new strawless lid, designed in-house, will become standard for all iced drinks except frappuccino, which will be served with a straw made from paper or PLA compostable plastic manufactured from sustainable material. Customers who prefer or need a straw can request one made of alternative materials. The new lid is also made of plastic but can be easily recycled.

Straws are usually not recycled since most recyclers don’t accept them as they often get lost or diverted and they usually end up in landfills and the ocean. Consumers, too, don’t bother to recycle them. It takes about 200 years for polypropylene plastic straws to break down under normal conditions – consequently there is an increase in the presence of microplastics that are ingested by marine life, ending up in our seafood, polluting the water, and harming marine ecosystems. However, it is not clear the extent of contribution of plastic straws towards marine pollution or the long-term health effects.

This is part of the latest frenzy among corporations to eliminate plastic. Starbucks claims it is the largest food and beverage retailer to make such a commitment. As part of its other ongoing sustainability efforts, the company has invested $10 million in the NextGen Cup Challenge to develop a fully recyclable and compostable hot cup since its paper cups are difficult to recycle. It is also encouraging customers to BYOT (bring your own tumble). In the US, Starbucks has been selling a $1 reusable cup since 2014 and it is available in Canada and the UK as well. In the US alone, more than 500 million disposable plastic straws are used every day.