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SB Voices: The last straw

As another UK-based pub chain bans plastic straws, Owen Bellwood asks will 2018 finally see the end of the disposable menace?

America alone discards 500 million straws every day, when will we see any real change?

There have been murmurings in the hospitality industry for years that plastic straws are bad news. They waste the planet’s resources, damage the environment and are injuring wildlife.

However, some people who I encountered during my time behind the stick (I previously worked behind the bar in Sheffield and London before my move into drinks writing) were reluctant to believe the bad press.

Things have changed in the last year, though, and campaigns against straws have popped up around the world. Bar chains in the UK, like JD Wetherspoon and All Bar One, have vowed to remove them from their venues, and the war on the straw has come to the front of drinkers’ attention.

While working on a debate feature for our magazine on the subject, I found that no bar I spoke to was willing to argue in favour of using straws. It seems bartenders and consumers are realising the impact of plastic straws and, in some cases, are beginning to campaign against them.

Jamie Poulton, director of Soho bar Randall & Aubin, who launched the Straw Wars campaign, told me: “Although most plastics can be recycled, straws are not made of recyclable plastic. In theory, this means that every single straw that is used ends up in landfill or our rivers and oceans, where they will stay for several decades until they biodegrade.”

The campaign against straws has even worked its way into the conscience of drinks producing behemoths Diageo and Pernod Ricard, who have vowed to remove straws from any event they are associated with.

In a statement, Diageo’s global sustainable development director, David Croft, said: “Diageo is committed to minimising our environmental impact and we are, like many of our consumers, increasingly concerned about the negative environmental impact associated with the irresponsible disposal of plastic straws.”

Despite these campaigns and moves from huge companies, there is still reluctance from many consumers to give up plastic straws and adopt eco-friendly alternatives.

Some argue that paper straws might go limp and soggy, and while metal straws may seems like a sleek option, how many of those do you think will be lost on a night out?

Then there’s the option of no straws at all, which always seems like the best bet. However, it may be hard to break a habit that has been around since 3000BC, when ornately decorated straws would be used by the wealthy to avoid the sediment in their beer.

The US alone sends 500 million straws to landfill every day, so it seems like a no-brainer to ditch something that is only used for 20 minutes but takes 200 years to decompose. But you have to wonder, what will it take for more people to finally change a habit?

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