Starbucks announced that it plans on phasing out all plastic straws from its 28,000 stores worldwide by 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The prospect of fast-food plastic utensils polluting desert and marine environments in the UAE appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for some eco-minded eateries.

Following a chorus of consumer demands for environmentally ethical eateries in the UAE, a growing list of food joints are banning plastic straws from their menus.

In the latest move, Starbucks announced this week that it will ban by 2020 all plastic straws at its 28,209 stores around the world, including more than 100 outlets across the UAE on university campuses, malls and stand-alone stores.

The one billion straws used every year by Starbucks — the United States alone consumes an estimated 500 million plastic straws a day — will be replaced with new recyclable plastic sipping cups created by the Seattle-based coffee franchise.

Starbucks’ move follows earlier decisions by other UAE businesses such as Freedom Pizza, Basta, and Jumeirah Restaurant Group to stop issuing straws to diners and meets calls by grass roots movements against plastic straws such as #stopsucking in the UAE.

Plastic straws have virtually no weight and given their small size are the bane of recyclers’ existence because they do not get properly recycled in machines.

Straws are also so thin and lightweight that often many don’t even make it to waste depots during the transportation process and are blown by the wind into oceans and waterways where birds and marine organisms are ingesting a variety of detrimental plastics.

Estimates peg plastic pollution at 150 million tonnes now in the world’s oceans and growing.

“Starbucks’ decision to phase out single-use plastic straws is a shining example of the important role that companies can play in stemming the tide of ocean plastic,” said Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas programme, in a statement. “With eight million metric tonnes of plastic entering the ocean every year, we cannot afford to let industry sit on the sidelines.”

Kevin Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Starbucks, said: “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.”

Chris Milne, director of packaging sourcing for Starbucks, said the new lids used by Starbucks are eco-sustainable because they can be recycled.

“By nature, the straw isn’t recyclable and the lid is, so we feel this decision is more sustainable and more socially responsible,” said. “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.”

Erin Simon, director of sustainability research and development and material science at World Wildlife Fund US, said the decision to eliminate plastic straws is “forward-thinking in tackling the material waste challenge”.