Food chains to phase out use of straws

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By LI HONGYANG li­hongyang@chi­nadaily.com

As global fast-food chains and cof­fee shops be­gin phas­ing out sin­gle-use plas­tic straws and stir sticks — both ma­jor sources of pol­lu­tion — en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in China say gov­ern­ment sup­port is needed to en­sure such ef­forts can help clean the world’s oceans.

McDon­ald’s China in­tro­duced a “straw­less” lid for cold bev­er­ages at 10 Bei­jing restau­rants on Nov 1. Din­ers also will not re­ceive plas­tic straws un­less they specif­i­cally ask, ac­cord­ing to a new com­pany pol­icy aimed at re­duc­ing plas­tic waste.

In July, Star­bucks also vowed to stop us­ing sin­gleuse plas­tic straws at more than 28,000 out­lets world­wide.

Data from the US Ocean Con­ser­vancy’s In­ter­na­tional Coastal Cleanup, which or­ga­nizes vol­un­teers to re­move trash from the world’s wa­ter­ways, show al­most 409,000 plas­tic straws and stir sticks were re­cov­ered by vol­un­teers from 112 coun­tries in 2016.

In 2015, a dis­turb­ing video of sci­en­tists at­tempt­ing to res­cue a tur­tle with a 12-cen­ti­ac­count me­ter plas­tic straw stuck in its nos­tril off the coast of Costa Rica went vi­ral on­line.

Non­degrad­able plas­tics are a ma­jor source of pol­lu­tion. Sci­en­tists es­ti­mated in a pa­per pub­lished by Sci­ence in 2015 that as much as 8 mil­lion met­ric tons of plas­tic waste could be flow­ing into oceans each year.

Like many con­sumers, Wu Yan­mei, a bank clerk in Bei­jing, had never thought about the im­pact a sim­ple straw could have on the en­vi­ron­ment.

“Ac­tu­ally, I don’t like us­ing straws, but the cups at fast­food restau­rants are all de­signed for use with a straw,” she said. “I don’t think straws are nec­es­sary, so the moves are a good way to raise peo­ple’s aware­ness of not us­ing sin­gle-use plas­tic prod­ucts.”

How­ever, Jiang Jian­guo, a pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies at Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity, said he doubts such ac­tiv­i­ties alone can have a ma­jor ef­fect on the global pol­lu­tion prob­lem.

“Com­pared with other plas­tic prod­ucts, straws for only a small pro­por­tion of pol­lu­tion. It’s more ur­gent to re­duce larger plas­tic trash like bot­tles by con­trol­ling pro­duc­tion and en­hanc­ing laws and reg­u­la­tions,” he said.

“I don’t think the move by McDon­ald’s will be a suc­cess be­cause pre­vi­ously there were lots of ho­tels call­ing for a ban on sin­gle-use plas­tics, but it ended up that noth­ing hap­pened be­cause busi­nesses com­pete by try­ing to make things con­ve­nient for con­sumers.”

Mao Da, founder of the China Zero Waste Al­liance, a non­govern­ment think tank, said en­vi­ron­men­tal moves ini­ti­ated by an in­flu­en­tial global com­pany like McDon­ald’s is a worth­while ef­fort.

“Some­times, gov­ern­ments will not carry out rules de­ci­sively, be­cause they take the feel­ings of en­trepreneurs into ac­count,” he said. “But when big com­pa­nies start to show de­ter­mi­na­tion to ban plas­tics and pro­mote an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly im­age, the gov­ern­ment should re­act with poli­cies and co­op­er­ate with com­pa­nies.

“Both sides should trust con­sumers and their en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A sign dis­cour­ag­ing the use of straws is placed at a McDon­ald’s in Bei­jing on what used to be a straw dis­penser.

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