After receiving petitions and debating the issues, at the beginning of the year the British parliament bottled administering a compulsory extra charge – the so-called latte levy - on each and every disposable coffee cup. This in spite of the success of the 5p plastic bag charge, introduced in October 2015; single-use plastic bag usage dropped from 7 billion to around half a billion within six months, and by 83% by the following year. So, it’s been left to the big coffee companies to take steps, rather than steps being forced upon every coffee company.
To that end, Boston Tea Party outright banned disposable cups from every store. No trial run, just rolled out across its 21 branches from the 1 of June this year. Instead, if you want a takeaway drink, you can buy a reusable coffee cup or take in your own. The other most publicised plastic offender seen drifting in the wind on any high street is the plastic straw and its days may at last be numbered. This week, Starbucks announced it would stop stocking plastic straws in its stores – that’s up to a billion a year avoided. An outright ban has been promised by the EU, and soon the British government jumped on the same promise.
Which led us to wonder what the average independent coffee shop thinks about disposable straws?
Because most of us have seen that sickening video of the straw being extracted from a sea turtles nose, and most of us have heard the statistics, too: more than 60% of all litter on British beaches consists of straws, each year 8 million tonnes of waste end up in the ocean, and that plastic is starting to enter the food chain.
Alternatives to the plastic straw
The reality is that the average coffee shop can’t replace the plastic straw with expensive alternatives – not so much because it isn’t cost-effective, but because a long-lasting straw becomes a commodity you couldn’t trust to find its way into customers’ pockets.
So that rules out aluminium straws, glass straws and silicone straws. Practical, durable and even classy they may be, but they’re not cheap to buy and replacing them regularly will erode profits fast.
You’ve got four very affordable environmentally friendly disposable straws to choose from, though.
- Paper straws. Available in bulk, seriously cheap, and able to withstand a good hour or so in a cold drink. The paper straw, in a worst-case street-littering situation, is at least entirely organic and will degrade fast.
- Biodegradable plastic straws. This is compostable plastic, essentially. Most bioplastics do need to be composted at industrial temperatures, however (the home compost bin won’t do it), and the UK hasn’t managed to come up with a unified waste collection service yet.
- Straw straws. Yes, a straw made from straw. Where the word comes from, obviously.
- Bamboo straws. The most durable and reusable of the straws suitable for coffee shops, we think. Sustainable and fast to grow, washable to a degree, and compostable when you’re done.
Which straw will suit your business best? Perhaps it’s a suck-it-and-see situation. All we know is, it’s time to act.