Just a few years ago, businesses that were engaging in the fast, cheap and disposable trend of plastic products are now rethinking their environmental impact. Companies such as hotels, airlines, safaris, resorts and cruise lines have banned or reduced their use of plastic straws. The trend began in 2015 when a video of an olive ridley sea turtle with a plastic straw wedged up its nose went viral.
This year, Starbucks introduced their new “sippy cup” like lid and within a few weeks announced that it would soon replace the plastic straw by 2020. This popularization of sustainable business through the elimination of straws is being criticized by some for not making enough of a difference in reducing plastic waste. Straws are the seventh-most-common item cleaned off beaches, comprising of no more than 0.2% of the eight million tons of plastic dumped into the ocean every year.
Starbucks’ movement is bringing more awareness to the danger of plastic and the push for reusable products. While this commitment will not solve the plastic waste problem it will at least eliminate more than one billion plastic straws from being cycled per year.
Historically, in 19th-century America, straws were made from natural products such as cut and dried rye stalks and straw. The bendy plastic straw we know today was not invented until the early 20th century and was marketed as the new public-health regime, allowing patients to drink while lying down and emphasized cleanliness, healthfulness, and durability.
- People with disabilities who rely on straws for independence have expressed concern that their dining options will be limited based on their accessibility. Social media has responded with questions such as “what did people do before straws” and some experts have replied with disturbing responses saying individuals could aspirate liquid in their lungs, develop pneumonia and die.
- Critics believe that these kinds of visible and globally inconsequential acts of environmentalism will function as a “moral license” that allows people to carry on with their other environmental negligence habits.
- Cities such as Seattle, Washington, Miami Beach, Fort Myers Beach, Malibu, Davis and San Luis Obispo have banned establishments from using plastic straws. California and Hawaii are considering bans on plastic straws. The countries Belize, Taiwan and England have proposed banning or have already regulated straw use in some areas.
Quests and Actions (Q&A):
- What should businesses do to accommodate people with disabilities? What does your business do?
- Does your business tend to be visibly sustainable or truly environmentally focused? What do you think are the next actionable steps in striving for a sustainable business world?
- Do you think the famous “triple bottom line” – people, profit, and planet – is contradictory since most of the time the interests of profit blatantly conflict with the interests of people and planet? Or, is it possible to align the best business decisions with the best ecological decisions?