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plastic straw bans - worth the effort or all for show?

Photo by: Alex @zerowastejourneycapetownPhoto by: Alex, @zerowastejourneycapetown

Author: Simone Quenneville

News of bans on plastic straws have been popping up recently in the media. While it’s a big step towards keeping plastic out of our oceans, does it go far enough to make a difference?

In Local News

Toronto City Council announced public consultations on reducing single-use products and plastics in July of this year. As such, a policy to ban the use of plastic straws is now in discussion and consultations will include other single-use products and take-out packaging. This is an important move since black plastic containers (used by many restaurants as take-out containers) are not accepted by the City of Toronto’s current recycling system.  

Even without the enactment of this policy, if you find yourself at a fast food restaurant sipping on a drink, you may notice the straw in your cup looks a bit different. As one example, earlier this year A&W switched to paper straws. Following in its footsteps, Recipe Unlimited—a parent corporation that owns a number of popular restaurants including Harvey’s, Swiss Chalet and New York Fries—has started phasing out plastic straws as well. Instead, paper straws will be available to customers upon request, with the aim to have only paper straws in all of Recipe Unlimited’s restaurants by March 2019.

Photo by: Nadine Shaabana

Photo by: Nadine Shaabana


These efforts to get rid of plastic straws are growing as the public demands businesses to take responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products. #Dontsuck and #strawlessTO are trending topics that you may have seen on your social media feeds. Plastic straws are no doubt a harm to our environment and oceans; they are one of the top 10 littered items found on beaches. However, they are only a small piece of the very large plastic problem. Specifically, only about 4% of the plastic in landfill are straws, according to a United Nations report.

On top of this, the internal act of banning plastic straws by multinational food corporations is likely seen more as a marketing opportunity than a genuine desire to become more sustainable. For instance, Starbucks was quick to pick up on the banning straws trend across all of their locations, however, their actions have come with unforeseen consequences. As you may have heard, the company has decided to replace their straws with sip lids made of, you guessed it, a harder plastic. Are we really winning if we are replacing one type of single-use plastic with another?

In other news, did you notice Starbucks stopped writing your name with a marker and replaced it with a single-use sticker awhile back? Perhaps another reason to BYOC.

Where To Go From Here?

In no way am I suggesting that businesses and local municipalities shouldn’t consider banning plastic straws. If anything, it is a good place to start a conversation about reducing our use of single-use plastic items. Importantly, it also allows us to spark a dialogue about the issue from a systems perspective, including the lifecycle analysis of one product over another, and what this broad policy change within business or government would mean for people living with disabilities who may be reliant on plastic straws.

Whether it's an internal business decisions or a municipal ban on plastic straws, businesses must examine the lifecycle of the products they are choosing to introduce into the market. Policy makers, in turn, must take into account how businesses might react to a municipal ban and how to ensure said reaction is a positive step towards reducing plastic pollution as a whole.   

 What do YOU think? Where do we go from here? Comment below. 


About the Author: Simone Quenneville is a graduate of the University of Toronto Master of Public Health program with a focus on nutrition. She is currently pursuing a career as a registered dietitian, but was drawn to the Bare Market blog as a way to keep her passion for the environment and sustainability alive.

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