Starbucks to Phase Out Plastic Straws by 2020

The coffee shop chain has developed a “sippy cup” lid for its iced drinks.

In a Nutshell

*Starbucks will roll out its strawless lids, starting in Seattle and Vancouver.

*As plastic straw bans become more prevalent, expect more restaurant chains to test out sustainable drinkware options.

The days of sipping venti half-caf skinny iced lattes from a plastic straw are numbered. Starbucks recently announced that it will be phasing out single-use plastic straws from its more than 28,000 stores by 2020, in an effort to reduce plastic waste and curb ocean pollution. Instead, customers will be given a strawless lid (comparable to a child’s sippy cup) or an alternative-material straw option. The company estimates the move will eliminate more than one billion plastics straws per year from its stores.

“For our partners and customers, this is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways,” CEO Kevin Johnson said in a press release.

Starbucks designed, developed and manufactured the strawless lid for iced beverages; the lid is already available at more than 8,000 of its stores in the U.S. and Canada. Straws made from alternative materials, such as paper or compostable plastic, will be available for blended drinks like Frappuccinos, or for customers who prefer or need a traditional straw, according to the company.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the strawless initiative will first roll out in Seattle and Vancouver this fall. Both cities recently passed their own plastic straw bans. Vancouver’s ban, which takes effect in the fall of 2019, is part of broader sustainability legislation, which also includes a ban on the distribution of foam cups and containers. Seattle, where Starbucks is headquartered, is the first major U.S. city to ban single-use plastic straws in bars and restaurants, the culmination of a decade-old waste-reduction ordinance.

Starbucks will eliminate plastic straws in the rest of the U.S. and Canada in phased rollouts throughout 2019, followed by a global rollout of the initiative.

Conventional plastic straws, analysts say, tend to slip through the cracks and end up polluting the ocean because the machines used in the recycling process aren’t typically designed to capture such small items. Plastic straws make up about 4% of all plastic waste that ends up in the ocean, according to a 2018 study by Australian scientists.

Many environmentalists praised Starbucks’ announcement. Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, called the coffee company “a shining example of the important role that companies can play in stemming the tide of ocean plastic.”

The World Wildlife Fund also expressed enthusiasm.

But others had a more cynical take.

A conversation around single-use plastic straws seems to be picking up steam recently. New York and San Francisco are considering bans, The United Kingdom announced a plan to ban their sale, and the European Union is working on a ban of single-use plastic products as well. India, too, wants to ban all single-use plastic by 2022.

Other large restaurant chains are taking their own steps to satisfy the growing movement as well. McDonald’s announced in June that it will transition completely to paper straws in the United Kingdom and Ireland by 2019. The company also plans to test out alternative straw materials in some restaurants in the U.S., France, Sweden, Norway and Australia. It will also pilot initiatives in select locations where straws are offered upon request only. “We hope this work will support industry-wide change and bring sustainable solutions to scale,” said Executive Vice President Francesca DeBiase in a press release.