Plastic-Straw Ban in Armenia: Stop Your Fancy Cocktails from Destroying Our Planet
Author: Alvina Saakyan
This paper introduces the policy of banning the single-use plastic straws in cafes and restaurants in Armenia. Plastic straws are proven to have no practical value or importance in absolute majority of cases, and there are different alternative options to it. This makes it a perfect target to eventually proceed to the total banning of plastic packaging in Armenia. Different options are comparatively analyzed in this paper, and the paper straws are suggested to be the most suitable alternative to single-use plastic straws in cafes and restaurants. It is recommended for the cafes and restaurants to provide the clients with paper straws only upon a request. It is up to the businesses to decide if they need to additionally charge the clients for the use of straws in order to reduce their own financial costs. Additional policies, aimed at supporting the individual use of other sustainable alternatives brought to the eating place by the clients themselves and total prohibition of the sale of plastic straws in shops are recommended to be implemented next.
A plastic straw goes well with a refreshing drink, but no one likes to know where it appears after you finish the dinner. According to some estimates, up to 8.3 billion plastic straws could be found on the entire world’s coastlines a couple of years ago. Plastic straws are a single-use supply, non-recyclable, and, most important, not necessary in absolute majority of the cases. That is why prohibition of plastic straws in Armenia is expected not to be harmful for the consumers, while it will have nothing but positive impact on the environment.
As to the international experience, plastic straws in cafes and restaurants are already prohibited in a number of cities in America, while England planned to start the banning process in 2020. In addition, many big companies, such as McDonald’s and Starbucks start refusing to provide the clients with the single-use plastic straws in particular regions or on the global scale. This action becomes a popular trend, which Armenia might be interested to support in order to improve its environmental state. Prohibition of single-use plastic straws in cafes and restaurants is expected to become the first step towards total reduction in the use of plastic packaging
There are different alternative options, which are going to be discussed in this paper, and the one which is found to be the most beneficial for all the actors affected by this policy is going to be suggested to be implemented in Armenia. Prohibition of plastic straws in no way is expected to cause radical inconvenience for the clients of cafes and restaurants, especially taking into consideration the sustainable alternatives being offered instead.
Though there is no wide-scale statistics on the use of plastic straws and the level of pollution it causes per country, some data for the largest straws-consumers can be found. Thus, estimated annual consumption volume of single-use plastic straws only in the fast-food market equaled 8.5 billion straws in the United Kingdom, 4.8 billion in Germany and 3.2 billion in France, as three top-ranking countries in this chart.
While the issue of plastic shopping bags is more widespread and the activists managed to achieve great results in many countries in this regard, including in Armenia, the problem of single-use plastic straws seems to be neglected, to some extent, worldwide. Moreover, in case of plastic bags, it is clear for the consumers what may become a sustainable alternative (any bag made of cloth), while it may seem confusing for many clients to imagine how plastic straws may be replaced. Furthermore, taking individual, non-plastic shopping bags to a supermarket already becomes a convenient way to fight against plastic bags on behalf of clients themselves, even if not supported by strong official policies. In case of cafes and restaurants, the client usually gets a drink with a plastic straw in it without even requesting it. Thus, making a change becomes very difficult if these intentions are not supported by governmental policies. Furthermore, the habit of carrying an alternative straw with you while going out yet is not widespread, in comparison to taking a cloth bag with you when going to shopping. Prohibition of plastic single-use straws in eating places may facilitate the development of such a habit among the consumers. Also, while plastic bags at least may be recyclable (though it is not a solution – minimization of its use is the only effective option), plastic straws are not recyclable. Finally, if the need for plastic bags may be explained in some way, this is not the case with the plastic straws.
As it is seen from researches and from practical observations, only physically disabled people consist a group in need for plastic straws. In all other cases use of straws with a beverage is not necessary, and is a mere means to make the drink more comfortable to consume. To put it simpler, in absolute majority of the cases the use of plastic straws is just some habit which has no practical importance.
These factors make the ban of single-use plastic straws a necessary and possible for implementation policy direction for Armenia. This is not going to cause any significant discomfort to the clients and will make an important contribution to eco-friendly future of the country.
Total prohibition of the use of any kind of straws in cafes and restaurants seems impossible, since this would mean forcing people to go beyond their comfortable habits which they practiced for years and decades. Moreover, some beverages imply the use of some straw. There may be 2 approaches to this problem: providing alternative options in the eating places, or leaving this on the consumers themselves to decide how they are going to replace the plastic straws. In order to increase the positive ecological impact of this policy, it makes sense to approach the issue from both sides, changing the way cafes and restaurants serve the beverages and, simultaneously, supporting the practices of consumers buying individual sustainable alternatives. This policy paper discusses the way how the cafes and restaurants need to comply with the idea of prohibition of plastic straws. A separate information policy is needed to be developed in order to support this activities, spreading information about sustainable alternatives to single-use straws and the importance of this step among publics.
There are four possible alternatives to plastic straws:
- straws made of “compostable” plastic,
- metal straws
- bamboo straws
- paper straws.
Two problems may arise when discussing possibility of each option. Firstly, any alternative is going to cause additional costs for the owners of the eating places, what might force them to start charging the clients for the use of straws. Secondly, the option chosen should be convenient for the consumers in terms of hygienic standards.
First of all, the straws made of the “compostable” plastic should not be treated as a reliable option. To be composted, these straws, as well as other products made by this technology, should remain separated from all other types of waste on all stages of waste collection. If in the end it lies somewhere together with other, non-recyclable waste, the process of “composting” cannot take place. However, even if “composted”, these straws only turn into particles of micro-plastic, which creates even greater pollution than original plastic, getting into soil, ocean, and, in the end, even ending up in meat and sea products that we consume. Therefore, straws made of the “compostable” plastic is a misleading option which in no way makes the policy eco-friendly.
Metal straws may be seen as an alternative, however, they are going to be more expensive for the owners of cafes and restaurants than the plastic ones. While plastic straws may be found for a couple of cents per straw, the prices on metal straws are much higher, not saying that it is hard to find a wholesale distributor, especially for Armenia. Moreover, if the plastic straw was simply thrown away after the use, metal alternatives need a special cleaning process, what increases the use of resources and adds more work for the employees. Thus, this alternative would work only if the cafe or restaurant would additionally charge the consumers if they want to use the straw. However, there is a psychological aspect, which may be an obstacle for the successful introduction of the metal straws as an alternative to plastic ones. Some consumers may not find it hygienic to use a straw that has already been used, even if knowing that it was properly cleaned.
Straws made of bamboo are a recently developed alternative, and these straws are even produced by one Armenian company. They may be more expensive than the metal ones, and they also need a proper care, like the metal straws. This alternative may seem more “eco-friendly” since it is made of the natural materials, however, it is a subject for the same problems as the metal straws: additional costs, additional work and non-hygienic perception.
Straws made of paper are also more expensive than the plastic ones, however, the difference is not as visible as in other cases. These straws are fully recyclable, and as it may be used only ones, there may be no perception of this option as not hygienic enough. The physical features of using paper straws in drinks are considered by some to be a disadvantage of this option. However, this is a minor problem. Moreover, paper straws are designed for single use only, but that doesn’t make it a non-sustainable equivalent to the plastic straws. Firstly, paper straws, if gathered separately, still are supposed to be recyclable. Secondly, this policy might imply that the cafes and restaurants are going to stop providing the clients with straws if no such preference is voiced. Therefore, paper straws produce much less harm to the environment that the plastic alternatives. Some big companies, such as Starbucks, which are trying to reduce the use of plastic in their cafes, choose the paper option
As it is understood, there are three main parties which may be affected by the prohibition of use of plastic straws, with impact varying from financial losses to a simple need to adjust to a new situation:
- owners of the cafes and restaurants
- the companies producing plastic straws.
For the companies producing the straws, this policy should be perceived as a natural development, which could be expected. The countries all over the world reduce the use of plastic, and particularly of the plastic straws in order to decrease the ecological harm. As in case with any other anti-plastic campaign, the plastic producing businesses are supposed to comply with the policy. They may try to change the direction of their business, maybe even trying to produce sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic straws.
The cafes and restaurants, as it was explained, may restitute their financial losses by charging additional price for the use of straws. Moreover, though the price for the alternatives is higher, the eating places will not buy as much straws as they used to. Since the cafes and restaurants are going to wait for the clients to ask for a straw, the overall consumption of straws will reduce which maybe in some cases will even be beneficial financially for some businesses. Thus, this policy is not expected to cause any significant financial damage to the owners of cafes and restaurants.
As to the consumers, in some way they need to also perceive this policy as a natural development, and many of them might even support this as a step towards the “green future” of Armenia. Some clients will start refusing to use any kind of straws in cafes and restaurants, understanding its uselessness. Others will agree to pay a not significant price for the alternative. Some may even start bringing their own alternative straws, such as metal ones, to the cafes. For disabled people, who need the plastic straws, if no other alternative is found to be convenient, the cafes and restaurants may keep some amount of usual straws. This is going to be an exception, so this is not an obstacle for implementation of the policy.
This paper introduces the policy of prohibition of the use of plastic straws in cafes and restaurants and provides alternative options which may replace the banned straws in order to cause least harm for the actors involved. The sustainable alternatives include straws made of bamboo, metal and paper. It is expected that any alternative may create additional costs for a business. Moreover, the chosen alternative option might be convenient for the clients. Although plastic straws in the drinks are not a necessity, this transition to a sustainable alternative should be convenient for the consumers in order to gain their support of this policy and all other activities coming next.
The comparison of the alternatives shows that the plastic straws should be better replaced by the ones made of paper. This option creates the least additional costs for the business and consumers. Moreover, since it does not include re-usage of the products, it may seem more appealing for the clients in terms of being a more hygienic option, compared to the straws made of metal or bamboo. Although it is still a single-use supply, gathered separately, paper straws may be later sent for recycling. Cafes and restaurant should still keep a certain number of plastic straws in order to provide them to people who cannot use other options due to medical reasons.
Implications and Recommendations
Cafes and restaurants are recommended to provide the straws only upon a request from the consumer in order to reduce the use of straws to minimum. The clients may be charged additionally for the use of straws, except for those who need it for medical reasons. If the cafe or restaurant finds any other option also fitting into their business strategy (i.e. if the disadvantages of metal or bamboo straws do not seem to harm their revenue and reputation), they may also implement it. That is, the main purpose of this policy is to leave the plastic straws in cafes and restaurants only for emergency cases. Paper straws are recommended as the most suitable alternative. But if metal or bamboo alternative is also considered to be beneficial for an eating place, it is free to use it additionally.
Simultaneously to the one prohibiting the plastic straws, it is recommended to implement another policy, aimed at supportin the use of individual recyclable alternatives to the plastic straws, such as bamboo or metal straws which consumers may bring to the eating places. Information campaign might be helpful in order to reduce the use of any single-use straws. Moreover, the policy of prohibition of plastic straws to be sold in shops may come next. It is considered to be an extreme and wrong action to ban all plastic straws in the country at once. Though being only a mere habit, the use of these straws is something that the public already finds natural. Thus, the prohibition of single-use plastic straws in cafes and restaurants only may be the first policy, followed by information campaign and later succeeded by banning the sale of plastic straws. Although the paper straws are recyclable and much better for the ecology than the plastic ones, it is not the last stage on the way to the “green future”.
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- Purtill, Corinne. “Ban plastic straws. Just don’t use paper ones, because they’re awful.” QUARTZ, July 10, 2018
- Whitten, Sarah. “Starbucks to ditch single-use plastic straws by 2020.” CNBC, July 9, 2018