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      • Stirring things up – but it’s not the last straw

      • As the warmer weather hits us, coffee shops, sandwich bars, smoothie bars and other drinks specialists start to see footfall rise and sales of cold drinks lift dramatically. Iced lattes, frappes, smoothies and shakes are all winning menu items throughout the British summer. No rest for your espresso machine, of course, with all those extra customers spilling out onto your outdoor seating. But what you’ll be getting through faster than ever is straws for your cold drinks. This week, the environment secretary announced that, along with plastic cotton buds, plastic straws (except for those provided to disabled people for whom rigid straws are too difficult to use) and drink stirrers will be banned from sale in the UK from April 2020.

        Now, McDonald’s may have faced a mini-backlash from certain fans of the fast food chain for replacing its plastic straws with paper straws, but those protestors should be in a minority; the government claims 80% of public responders back the ban on plastic straws, and 90% on plastic drink stirrers. That this update for our coffee blog is being written on the day that a predicted 1.4 million young people are to strike in protest about the climate crisis backs this vital message – that single-use plastic may take hundreds of years to break down, but its lifespan as a mass-produced product is looking shorter by the day.

        Take a look at the products you’re using for takeaway drinks – hot and cold. Plastic straws? Plastic stirrers? Plastic coffee cup lids? Mixed-material takeaway cups?

        You could wait until next March to take action, to source the right products to replace what will be illegal. Or you could start now, get ahead of the curve, and send an environmentally friendly message to your customers.

        Plastic stirrers are easily replaced. Wooden stirrers from sustainable sources could even have a separate collection receptacle, so that once used they go on to be used for kindling or a host of other uses.

        You have plenty of options to replace straws, too, along with the potential of earning a little extra money. Paper straws are the cheap option, widely available. These should be the default option for every customer coming through your door, gasping for a cold drink. You can even get paper straws which bend, available in multiple colours, which will last for three hours in a cold drink. But you can also sell straws which last, for customers to own and carry in their bag. The three obvious options are: bamboo, glass and stainless steel straws. All can be put through the dishwasher, and when bamboo straws wear out, they’ll compost within a few months.

        We’ve listed your compostable cups and reusable cups on various previous posts, so refresh your memory with a quick browse. But what about those plastic lids? If you don’t go with Vegware or similar, and your margins are so tight you’re reluctant to abandon them until they too are banned, consider one simple change: if you stock black plastic coffee cup lids, change them for white or translucent plastic. Why? Because black plastic is notoriously difficult to detect among mixed recyclables at recycling plants. The lasers usually don’t detect it. Which means most councils request no black plastic in recycling and insist that it is put into general waste. Which means your black plastic lids, if they’re not blowing off tables in the wind or being dropped by careless customers, go into landfill even if your customers do the right thing. Switch to any other colour lid, and it’s easily recycled.

        Simple changes can make a big difference. And your eco-conscious customers will thank you for them. Don’t wait until next year; ditch single-use plastic on your very next order.