Global coffee giant Starbucks announced Monday it is to eliminate all plastic straws from its 28,000 stores by 2020, becoming the latest corporate giant to take steps to combat pollution from disposable plastic.
After months of tests, many of them carried out in Britain, the firm announced the news on Twitter.
The plastic straws will be replaced by recyclable lids that have a small raised opening allowing consumers to sip their drink, a model that has already been road tested on some of the company's cold beverages in the US and Canada.
Plastic straws have proven difficult to recycle, not because of the material they are made from but because they are too slim for recycling production lines to effectively sort through. The new lids, made of polypropylene, will be big enough for machines to recycle, Starbucks said.
"Starbucks is finally drawing a line in the sand and creating a mould for other large brands to follow," said Chris Milne, director of packaging sourcing. "We are raising the water line for what's acceptable and inspiring our peers to follow suit."
The store will automatically offer cold drinks with the new sipping lid, but for "frappuccinos," a coffee mixed with ice, the store will offer paper straws or ones made of a compostable plastic based on fermented plant starch. Customers who prefer a straw with their drink can ask for one.
By not automatically offering straws with drinks, Starbucks estimates it will save a billion straws a year.
Numerous advocacy groups, including Ocean Conservancy, welcomed the move. Several European countries and cities in the United States are mulling restrictions on the use of plastic straws, although outright bans are still rare. In the US, Seattle -- hometown of Starbucks -- is the only major city to have so far banned the use of plastic straws in its eateries.
Pressure from consumers is driving many companies to tackle waste from packaging. McDonald's is road testing the use of biodegradable straws for its drinks.