Starbucks' Plastic Straw Ban: Is 'Something' Better Than Nothing?

A few weeks ago, we gave Starbucks - the US’ largest food and drink retailer - social media love for their plan to remove all plastic straws from their stores by 2020, and replace them with a new ‘strawless lid.’ Immediately following the announcement and positive press Starbucks received, people took to social media to begin poking holes in their new strategy. It was quickly discovered that the new lids use more plastic than straws, thus increasing demand for single-use plastic.

As the social media uproar over this discovery gained steam, I had a few friends ask for my opinion. My immediate response was ‘Well, something is better than nothing.’ The more I said it and discussed, the more I wondered… Is that true? Is something really better than nothing?

So that’s what I’m exploring today…

Should we be applauding Starbucks for their efforts, or criticizing them for introducing a heavier single-use plastic lid to replace a smaller single-use plastic straw + lid combo?

Let’s start by assessing the pros and cons of their actions…


  • Starbucks’ new lid is heavier than the former straw plus lid combo, thus increasing the demand for and amount of single use plastic.

Pros (according to Bonnie Monteleone, the Exec. Director of the Plastic Ocean Project):

  • The new lid is made from polypropylene, which is recyclable (unlike straws).
  • The new lid is heavy enough that it can be captured in recycling infrastructure (unlike straws).
  • Since the lids are larger and heavier, they’re less likely to end up in the ocean than the smaller straw + lid combo, which was harder to collect.
  • If the lids do end up in the ocean, they won’t break up as easily since they’re heavier than the former straw + lid combo, making them less likely to be ingested by wildlife. They also will be easier to collect from the ocean due to their size.

My Conclusions…

Is Starbucks’ glass half full or half empty? As a rationalist with a law degree, my answer is always ‘It depends.’

Do I believe Starbucks took a step in the right direction? Yes, I do. Whenever the largest food and drink retailer in the US does anything that shows they care for the environment, I will applaud and support that move.

Is their new policy somewhat misguided or flawed? Yes. We need to drastically reduce the amount of single-use plastic we use and sell – both recyclable and non-recyclable. At minimum, Starbucks should redesign a smaller lid. What they really need to do is heavily incentivize people to BYOC (Bring Your Own Cup) and straws, and introduce compostable single-use cups and straws where proper facilities exist.

Can all the #BasicBitches of the world now drink their skinny frozen mocha java grande fraps while applauding themselves for saving the planet? Absolutely not. If you want to do the best thing for the planet, you should make your own coffee. But the next best thing is bringing your own cup and/or straw to coffee shops and having them fill it with your favorite concoction. Nearly all coffee shops and gas stations not only allow you to do this already, but most offer a discount (I know because I do this anytime I buy coffee).