Mon, Jul 02, 2018 - Page 5 News List

War on plastic leaves producers clutching at straws

AFP, PARIS

A barmaid prepares cocktails that have paper straws at Wipeout Bar and Grill in San Francisco on June 21.

Photo: AFP

For decades, plastic straws have been essential props for cocktail makers, smoothie lovers and fast-food addicts.

However, that might be starting to change, thanks largely to vigorous environmental campaigning.

Under pressure from activists, the EU, Britain, India and even fast food giants, such as McDonald’s, have all made some headway toward bringing the use of plastic straws to an end.

With public pressure growing on governments, particularly in Europe, to ban single use plastics, manufacturers are feeling the heat.

According to peer-reviewed US journal Science magazine, 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the Earth’s oceans and seas each year — 250kg every second.

For years, the focus of environmentalists has been on plastic bags.

However, plastic straws have now come into the spotlight, thanks in part to images that have gone viral on the Internet.

One online video about the danger posed by seemingly innocuous straws shows a sea turtle rescued off Costa Rica getting one removed from its nostril.

The British government in April said it planned to ban the sale of single-use plastics including straws.

The EU followed suit in late May.

In India’s commercial capital Mumbai, Burger King, McDonald’s and Starbucks were fined for violating a ban on single-use plastics, an official said last month.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to make his country free of single-use plastic by 2022.

Some corporations are also taking steps.

In the UK and Ireland, McDonald’s has pledged to complete a transition to paper straws by next year. In France, the burger giant is testing alternatives.

The Hilton hotel giant in May vowed to remove the offenders from its 650 properties by the end of this year.

“Laid end to end, the straws saved each year in [Europe, the Middle East and Africa] would exceed the length of the River Seine,” the hotel chain said in a statement.

There are alternatives to plastic straws, but they are much pricier.

The five-star Monte Carlo Palace hotel in Monaco has introduced biodegradable straws.

Others are using raw pasta and bamboo sticks.

The US is resisting change, while Europe takes the lead with biodegradable plastics made either from fossil fuels or crops such as potatoes and corn.

About 100,000 tonnes of bioplastics were produced in 2016 in the world, according to Germany’s specialist Nova-Institute.

Last year, biodegradable plastic production capacity rose to 800,000 tonnes globally, the European Bioplastics industrial group said.

While this might appear to be a step in the right direction, manufacturers are concerned about the impact outright bans would have on their sales.

“It’s not a very good sign,” said Herve Millet, technical and regulatory affairs manager at PlasticsEurope, the region’s leading plastics manufacturers’ association. “But ... big corporations also have concerns over their image and they must at least try to find a way to respond to society’s expectations.”

Europe’s top plastic straws manufacturer, Soyez, which is based in France, is also uncertain about how to make the transition.

“The problem isn’t new and it’s serious, so we obviously need to find alternatives,” company director Pierre Soyez said.

“We’ve been working on this for several months,” he said, adding that it was “really complicated” to try to make the shift overnight.

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