Ellie’s Expression: Starbucks grasps for straws

Webster Groves Starbucks currently serves certain drinks with the new lids. However, customers who want whipped cream will get the old lid and straw combination. Photo by Cole Schnell

Starbucks, by 2020, has committed to making piles of indisposable lids.

As of now, Starbucks produces its new lids with polypropylene, or #5 plastic, a plastic that is non recyclable.

This might come to a shock, but recycling is much more complicated than most people imagine.

“(Recycling is) a system dictated by market demand, price determinations, local regulations, the success of which is contingent upon everywhere, from product designer, to the trash thrower, to the waste collector, to the recycling worker,” environmental journalist Lilly Sedaghat said in a National Geographic article.

Right now, the demand is low for #5 plastic. The U.S. used to send its recycled #5 plastics to China, but the Chinese no longer want it. Their own waste production is increasing, so they don’t need scrap plastics from other countries anymore.

This plastic waste is now being incinerated, sent to landfills or sent to other countries in Southeast Asia.

According to Fast Company, “In the first quarter of 2018, after China’s ban took effect, the U.S. sent 6,895 percent more plastic waste to Thailand than it had the year before. It also sent 611 percent more plastic to Malaysia, and 82 percent more to Vietnam.”

None of these countries want our plastic either.

“In May, as it dealt with an onslaught of plastic trash from the U.S. and other countries, Vietnam announced a temporary ban on accepting the waste. In July, Thailand also announced a ban on scrap plastics. Malaysia is also considering a ban,” Fast Company said.

These countries don’t want our plastic, yet we keep sending it. None of them are able to actually recycle these plastics due to inadequate recycling infrastructure.

This means more of it will end up in the ocean. A 2017 report by Ocean Conservancy found that China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam were responsible for more plastic in the ocean than the rest of the world combined.

“We’re debunking the claims that Starbucks is making, because they’re not looking at this holistically, systematically or globally,” Shilpi Chhotray, senior communications officer for the movement, called Break Free From Plastic, said.

However, it gets worse. Not only is the coffee giant making the lids out of non recyclable plastics, it is also increasing plastic usage.

According to a study by Reason, “Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size.”

This is obviously problematic. The more plastic we use globally, the more we suffer the consequences. It is time to end the blind activism.

Eleanor Marshall – Opinion Columnist

This is Eleanor Marshall’s second year on ECHO staff, but she made several contributions while taking journalism class her sophomore year. She has been recognized for her work by JournalismSTL, MJEAand MIPA.

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