If you’re wondering what the next big environmental kick in the food world might be, just look down at your candy bar.
We probably don’t think about what happens to our candy wrappers when we gobble up that chocolate and toss the plastic in the trash, but there are companies that have actually been thinking about it.
Over the years, gourmet chocolates have tried their hand at compostable chocolate wrappers, like in 2013, when Hnina produced its “guilt free” chocolate with biodegradable wrapping.
In 2015, Alter Eco chocolate really got the ball rolling, as it became known for producing an environmentally-friendly chocolate wrapper that “you can bury in your back yard.”
Since then, the build has slowed a bit, but Seattle Chocolate just jumped on the trend in a big way, launching compostable wrappers for its truffles, and a plan for a full switch by 2020. Their new truffle wrappers are made with cellulose, a naturally abundant organic material derived from eucalyptus trees that are sustainably harvested.
On a larger scale, big players such as Mars and Nestle have a goal of making all their candies with biodegradable packaging by 2025, according to the Huffington Post UK.
Mars in particular has made some pretty big leaps, teaming with Rodenburg Biopolymers in 2016 to create a Snickers concept wrapper made of potato starch waste, and being given top honors from the Global Bioplastics Awards.
The changes in our candies might not be immediate, but you will probably start seeing gradual changes turn into dramatic changes, as we saw when restaurants jumped on the plastic straw ban trend over the last year.
So don’t be surprised if within the next couple of years your Kit Kat and M&M’s packaging start feeling a little different than what you’re used to. The changes are coming, and like we saw with straws, they can come in a blink of an eye.
At the start of the baseball season, Los Angeles Dodgers beat writer Pedro Moura tweeted out that Dodger Stadium was eliminating its plastic straws and replacing them with paper ones. It’s something that could have been brushed off until you experienced it yourself, which I did on my recent trip to the stadium.
What Moura did not mention was that the Dodgers would be going the Starbucks route, and covering their soft drinks with sippy cup-like lids.
The new lids allow you to punch a hole through a perforated section, and sip through it with or without a straw.
While you can still request a paper straw as an alternative, it’s not something they tell you, so most people around the stadium were walking around with strawless sippy cups.
It’s a vast deviation from the drinking norm, and even upon getting the cup myself, I began to look for the condiment section, expecting to find a straw container.
It eventually hit me that there was no straw container, and the strange lid served a purpose, one that several restaurants and cities have been doling out over the last couple of years.
The strawless trend is now hitting the sports world, and to many, that’s when it starts to feel real.
It’s one thing to ban straws at a hipster cafe in Malibu, California, it’s another to eliminate them at a stadium that houses a $3 billion team that averages over 3 million attendees per season.
The Seattle Mariners got the ball rolling on this movement, reducing its straws from T-Mobile Park (Then Safeco Field) at the end of September 2017, and has since gone completely straw-less. CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL’s Seahawks has also gone this route, mostly because of plastic bans in the city of Seattle.
Bubble tea has had a boom in the U.S. for a while now, and its enlarged straws are quite distinct, needing to be wide enough for marble-sized tapioca balls to be sucked through.
With many food establishments around the world eliminating single-use plastic straws, that presented a bit of a problem in the boba community, until now.
“The Boba Straw” is the first reusable straw of its kind, allowing boba lovers to help reduce plastic use as well.
The Boba Straws come in three colors: rose gold, true black, and gunmetal. It also comes with a cleaning brush and drawstring carrying case.
Those unfamiliar with reusable straws might think it sounds ridiculous to carry one around, but that seems to be where the future of on-the-go drinks are headed.
Major fast food players such as McDonald’s and Starbucks have already made sweeping moves in eliminating single-use straws for environmental reasons. That leaves customers with the option of going straw-less, using the establishment’s reusable straw, or like the Boba Straw is pushing, bring your own.
However, it’s not just restaurants that are eliminating the plastic straw usage. Major U.S. cities such as Seattle and Malibu have already passed laws to ban plastic straws.
In less than a week, The Boba Straw Kickstarter campaign met its fundraising goal of $3,812.00. With more than a month to go as of this writing, the pledges are likely to keep coming in, as this is obviously something people are clamoring for.
And now you have your own eco-friendly way to drink boba.
With all the talk of plastic drinking straws being banned from major fast food establishments such as Starbucks and McDonald’s, there seems to be a demographic that has been lost in all this.
The disabled community isn’t totally on board with the straw bans, as straws are a helpful tool for those who may not be physically able to drink something comfortably otherwise.
Disability Rights Washington wrote a letter to the Seattle City Council, making sure the voices of those with disabilities, were heard.
One of the key points in the letter was, “Many people with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis require the use of plastic straws in order to hydrate. Other types of straws simply do not offer the combination of strength, flexibility, and safety that plastic straws do.”
These were initial concerns upon Seattle passing the plastic straw ban, as the importance of plastic straws to the disabled, seemed to be lost.
Advocates for the disabled have also taken to Twitter to voice their concerns, arguing that plastic straw alternatives are inefficient, and even harmful.
Imani Barbarin posted a photo showing all the plastic straw alternatives, and each seem to have a flaw that is detrimental to the disabled community, whether it be a choking hazard, injury risk, unable to be positioned, or even terrible in high temperatures.
Reusable straws are a problem for several reasons.
1. It puts the burden of accessibility on already overburdened people. This is sometimes referred to, in the context of Disability, as #CripTax.
2. Practically, reusable straws require sterilization before/after use. 1/
With valid concerns, the current straw bans actually aren’t as strict as one might think.
In Seattle, where the entire city has banned the regular use of plastic straws, restaurants are still required to carry some to give customers upon request.
The law states that the ban will not apply for:
“Disposable flexible plastic drinking straws when needed by customers due to medical or physical conditions and for whom flexible compostable paper straws are unsuitable. Otherwise, straws must be compostable or designed to be reusable.”
So at least Seattle, one of the first U.S. cities to run this type of plastic utensil ban, made sure that those with medical disabilities have access to flexible, adjustable straws.
Just last week, Starbucks made the big announcement that they’d eliminate the use of plastic straws by 2020, instead using compostable straws and/or straw-less lids.
With the concerns raised by disability rights advocates, Starbucks addressed the issue in a statement, saying:
“Starbucks offers, and will continue to offer straws to customers who need or request them in our stores. Starbucks recent announcement about straws will not impact the ability of those who need straws to access them. We take an inclusive design approach to all packaging to ensure that all customers will be able to enjoy their Starbucks beverages.”
In the statement, Starbucks did not specifically say that it would keep plastic, disabled-friendly straws, drawing concern that they did not fully comprehend that compostable straws were not the answer, but it did sound like they are keeping the concerned community in mind.
We’ll have to wait and see how far all these plastic straw bans go, but thankfully there are people fighting for disabled rights, and making sure that even large corporations like Starbucks take note.
There is a trend in the food industry that is sneaking up on everyone. It’s not cold brew, or rainbow grilled cheese: it’s the replacement of plastic drinking straws.
The straw revolution is inevitable, and you’re going to have to get used to it, whether you like it or not.
One of the biggest signs that plastic straws are on their way out, is what McDonald’s just did.
The largest burger chain in the world just completely ousted plastic straws from all of its United Kingdom restaurants, and replaced them with paper straws. It wasn’t just a public relations stunt, and it wasn’t just at select stores. It was implemented at every single one of McDonald’s 1,300 U.K. locations.
It’s an ice cold reality that you can expect when ordering an ice cold Coke in the U.K.
As McDonald’s showed, one of plastic’s main replacements have been paper straws, and while you can still argue that paper has its own waste issues, other options have shown to be popular in the restaurant industry, as well.
Like Angelenos have probably noticed on their cocktails, reusable stainless steel straws are a popular alternative. These straws eliminate the waste issues from both plastic and paper, and can be re-used like any other dishware.
Or, like Starbucks has shown with their new sippy cup lids, you can say f*ck the straw altogether and drink your beverages like a toddler.
If you’re wondering what’s the beef with straws, one of the most brutal examples of its terrifying effects, comes from a 2015 video of a marine biologist trying to remove a straw stuck up a turtle’s nostril.
The graphic video taken by Texas A&M marine biologist Christine Figgener shows a poor turtle in Costa Rica crying and struggling to breathe for minutes, as Figgener tries to extract the plastic straw.
The turtle literally bleeds from its nose ala Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, and the image is quite disheartening.
Sure, that is only one documented instance, but it shows just how easily wildlife can be harmed by an object that is overflowing in our oceans.
According to StrawFree.org, Americans use more than 500 million plastic straws a day and they are one of the top 10 pieces of garbage found in the ocean. As a result, over 1 million sea birds are killed by plastic every year, and about 100,000 marine mammals lose their lives, as well.
If you need more proof that plastic straws will soon be a thing of the past, Seattle just banned plastic straws. Period. As of July 1, 2018, food businesses in the the major city are no longer allowed to use plastic straws or even plastic utensils in their establishments.
It would be one thing if this ban took place in a small town like Bozeman, Montana, but Seattle is the 15th largest city in the U.S. with nearly 4 million residents who will be affected by the straw prohibition.
Seattle isn’t alone, as Malibu, California set up its own straw ban that took effect June 1. Even New York City, with its 8 million residents, is proposing a straw ban by 2020.
Of course, not everyone completely buys the notion that straws are such a monstrous, dangerous killer.
The New York Post argued that there is no real scientific evidence to show that straws, in particular, are the pin-pointed problem. The issue is creeping up on New York, and they feel some type of way about it, especially since they’ve already had a Styrofoam ban that will be enforced on January 1, 2019.
Dune Ives, Executive Director at Lonely Whale, the organization that pushed Seattle’s straw ban, admitted that it’s not really about the straws. Ives told Vox that it is about plastic in general, and the straws are just a conscious reminder of how much single-use plastic we use in our daily lives.
The straw ban, at least in Seattle, is an effort to make people more environmentally conscious.
Still, the world seems to be gravitating toward those efforts and running wild with them.
TL;DR- Staw bans are coming, and they’re coming fast.
I’m not an environmentalist trying to convince you that the earth is burning, and we’re headed for inevitable doom (although we probably are). I just see trends in the food world and write about them. I’m trying to let you know that this is absolutely happening.
Hopefully you’re not too attached to your good ol’ plastic straws, because its days are numbered, whether it’s now, a year from now, or 10 years from now.
Will this move completely save our oceans? Probably not, but it’s a start to making us aware of the egregious plastic problem.
Get your lips ready for a soft paper sip, or a cold steel one, and enjoy your plastic experience while you still can.