Shunning the straw: the story so far

23 January 2018

The writing has been on the wall for the use of disposable plastic drinking straws in the on-trade for a while, and now it appears time is finally running out.

There have been moves made against straws for a number of years, but a few recent events in the UK have pushed this plastic bar accessory ever closer to extinction. The year started with a proposal to introduce a latte levy on disposable coffee cups, kicking off 2018 with unnecessary plastic waste on everyone’s minds.

A week later came the UK Government’s commitment to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042, including plastic drinking straws. In Scotland, Kate Forbes MSP launched the Final Straw campaign, calling for businesses to take action, and for an eventual ban on plastic straws in the country.

The Evening Standard followed by launching The Last Straw campaign last week, calling on London’s restaurants, bars, cafés and more to join the cause. The Sunday Mail in Scotland launched a similar campaign.

Pernod Ricard had already planted its flag. A fortnight ago, the drinks giant committed to eliminating the use of all non-biodegradable plastic straws and stirrers globally, adding that it had already implemented this in the run up to the holiday season. This forms part of the company’s goal to reduce its waste to landfill from 913 tons today, to zero in 2020. Diageo followed suit, saying that its new straw policy was part of a broader approach to plastic packaging in general.

Ultimately this an evolution, not a trend. And like any evolution, those who don’t evolve will become extinct

Iain Griffiths

Bacardi pre-empted all of this back in March 2016, eliminating plastic straws and stirrers from its company’s events worldwide. This initiative formed part of the company’s Good Spirited: Building a Sustainable Future campaign. At the time, Ian McLaren, director of trade advocacy for Bacardi, said: ‘Plastic straws don’t biodegrade, and their use is ubiquitous across many industries including the spirits market. We are resolved to be part of the solution, and this includes reducing the amount of waste we produce.’

It's no surprise that a number of bars are already leading the charge against these unnecessary plastics. Super Lyan, for example, has been using bamboo straws since it opened in April last year. Scout, with its focus on minimal waste, doesn’t use any straws at all. Instead, the bar uses a single long cube of ice in its drinks, eliminating the need for a straw. ‘It will become less normal to expect them in drink,’ reasons owner Matt Whiley.

War on straws

In the middle of last year, bar group The Alchemist declared a ‘war on straws’, stopping straws from being served as standard across all of the group’s 10 sites, preventing an estimated two million straws per year from going to landfill.

All Bar One, which was purchasing 4.7 million straws a year, got involved in the middle of 2017 too, declaring that #strawssuck, pledging to phase them out, and reduce its use of them by a third within a year. Later in 2017, Wetherspoons announced that plastic straws would no longer be used in its more than 900 pubs, being replaced from January 2018 by biodegradable paper straws.

At Café Cairo in London’s Brixton, plastic straws were replaced by metal straws in May last year. Customers have the option of paying a pound deposit for the metal straw, or buying it for the same amount. Before being reused, these are cleaned with a small brush before being put through the glass washer. ‘We’ve had different responses to the lack of plastic straws at the bar,’ says Marian Medina-Cuesta, who initiated the programme at the venue. ‘We get everything from enthusiastic customers who love the idea, to people who are offended at being asked for a deposit.’

Iain Griffiths, of Trash Tiki, perhaps says it best. ‘Ultimately this an evolution, not a trend. And like any evolution, those who don’t evolve will become extinct.’



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