Starbucks plans to eliminate the use of plastics straws in all their stores by 2020 and they're introducing a cool new lid to take the place of those straws. This effort will result in 1 billion fewer plastic Starbucks straws a year, a move that the company hopes makes a solid positive impact on the environment and encourages other food and beverage companies to follow suit.
While other companies are moving entirely to more environmentally friendly straws, using versions made of bamboo, paper, or a plastic made from biodegradable materials (unlike regular plastic), Starbucks decided to focus on something that the drink already needed: a lid.
Engineer Emily Alexander and her team created a recyclable strawless lid for cold beverages that works like a sleeker version of the traditional lid used on hot beverages. Crucially, this new lid allows for the drinker to get the creamy foam from the drink.
Alexander designed the lid for use on one particular beverage -- the Starbucks' Draft Nitro. At first, the lid would be used on that drink and only at the chain's Seattle Reserve store. Little did she know that her design work would change the way the entire company serves cold drinks.
"I am really excited to have developed something that can be part of this big transformation of going strawless," Alexander said in a story on the company's website. "It was this very small thing and now it is so much bigger and more impactful."
Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., customers will be the first to see the new lids replace single-use plastic Starbucks straws, with other locations coming on board through 2020. Customers who prefer or need a straw can request one for use with any cold drink.
"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," said Kevin Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Starbucks.
The company is quick to note that the new lid is also made of plastic, but it's the kind of plastic that can be widely recycled, unlike the plastic regular Starbucks straws are made from. Overall, the new lid should help reduce plastic waste.
"By nature, the straw isn't recyclable and the lid is, so we feel this decision is more sustainable and more socially responsible," said Chris Milne, director of packaging sourcing for Starbucks.
The coffee giant also hopes that other brands will make a similar change. Milne added, "Starbucks is finally drawing a line in the sand and creating a mold for other large brands to follow. We are raising the water line for what's acceptable and inspiring our peers to follow suit."
The cold-cup lids now are used for a small number of drinks including Draft Nitro and Cold Foam in more than 8,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Starbucks is moving to make it the standard lid for all iced drinks except their Frappuccino, which will be served with an alternative-materials straw.
Customers and partners have been asking the coffee company to eliminate straws; because Starbucks straws are not biodegradable and not recyclable in most areas, they can sit around landfills for hundreds of years, or worse, get dumped into the ocean where they harm marine life.
Colleen Chapman, vice president of Starbucks global social impact overseeing sustainability, said, "This move is an answer to our own partners about what we can do to reduce the need for straws. Not using a straw is the best thing we can do for the environment."
Going strawless is just one of the steps towards sustainability the coffee chain is making. Starbucks has also invested $10 million in the NextGen Cup Challenge, which seeks to develop a fully recyclable and compostable hot cup. You can also BYOT (bring your own tumbler) to get your coffee; the store has been selling reusable cups since 2014.
Starbucks is the largest food and beverage retailer to make this kind of commitment. While McDonald's is replacing plastic straws with paper straws in all its United Kingdom locations in advance of an official plastic straw ban in the U.K., the burger chain's shareholders voted down a proposal to study plastic straw usage in its U.S. locations.
Cold drinks make up over half of Starbucks' beverage sales and the company is continuing to expand their iced coffee menu. They are adding a Salted Cream Cold Foam Cold Brew drink that uses the new strawless lid and an Iced Vanilla Bean Coconutmilk Latte that combines espresso, coconut milk, and vanilla bean.