Over 300 million tons of plastic waste produced annually
High cost makes advanced countries reluctant to recycle it


As environmental pollution from plastic waste gets worse, leading U.S. coffeehouse chain Starbucks announced last July that it will discontinue using disposable plastic straws at its all stores across the world by 2020. The move comes amid the ongoing trend mainly among American companies to do away with plastic straws which are not fit for recycling.

Plastic products are essentially harder to recycle because much higher costs are needed as compared to waste made of other materials. Developed countries which generate more plastic waste are reluctant to recycle it. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported last August that the global plastic waste production exceeded 300 million tons per year, with up to 12 million tons spilling into the sea every year. It warned of the seriousness of environmental pollution caused by the discharged waste. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) also came out with a report last June, pointing out that 67 countries and regions have so far introduced some kinds of regulations including a ban on production of plastic products. It urged more countries to follow suit.

Among plastic products, smaller items like straws cannot be recycled. So most of them eventually flow out into the sea, inflicting adverse impacts on the marine life and the environment. A video footage of a straw being pulled from a sea turtle’s nose posted by a research team of Christine Figgener, a marine conservation biologist at Texas A&M University, has drawn a tremendous response on YouTube. Starbucks said in its announcement, “Unlike cups and lids, straws cannot be recycled,” adding that it will offer a plastic lid that does not require a straw or introduce non-plastic straws such as one made of paper.

Similarly, major U.S. hamburger chain McDonald’s has announced the abolition of plastic straws. How the move will spread to other companies in the world needs to be closely watched.

 (Written by: Yuta Uchino)







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