National and local news reports over the last several weeks have focused on efforts by environmentalists to ban plastic straws, which endanger marine life once they make their way to the oceans and apparently live on forever in landfills.
McDonald’s began the movement, announcing June 4 that biodegradable paper straws would be used throughout the United Kingdom by 2019.
The company also said it would begin testing plastic straw alternatives in the United States later this year.
McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook spoke with CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” in early June.
“The whole topic of what they call single-use plastics is on everyone’s radar,” Easterbrook said. “There isn’t currently a viable alternative that’s nonplastic at the moment, at the scale we need.”
Starbucks, based in Seattle, Wash., followed July 9, saying the company would put in place a worldwide ban on its use of plastic straws by 2020. Flat plastic lids would be used instead.
A ban on plastic straws and utensils went into effect in the city of Seattle July 1. Portland, Ore., followed July 18, banning plastic straws in the city hall restaurant after a complaint by a young child.
Marriott International said July 18 plastic straws would no longer be used in its hotels by July 2019.
Servers and bartenders at the Atlantis casino in Reno, Nev., no longer ask customers if they want straws with their drinks.
The list goes on and on.
Frank’s Pizza Palace in Appleton, Wis., solved the problem 30 years ago. Customers there are given a “pasta” straw with their beverages.
The straw is basically a long ziti, a hollow tube through which the soda can be sipped.
The Lehigh Valley has a vested interest in the ban-the-plastic-straw issue. Fuling Plastic USA, with headquarters in China, has a plastic straw manufacturing facility that opened in June 2015 in Upper Macungie Township.
According to a May 2016 news release, Fuling Global, Taizhou, China, has been a major manufacturer and exporter of plastic products, including straws, plastic ware, cups and other products for 24 years.
The news release also states Fuling sells these items to four of the top five fast-food chains in the United States.
On July 9, 69 News WFMZ-TV broadcast an interview with Fuling USA Chief Financial Officer Gilbert Lee.
“Plastic has been under attack for a while,” Lee told the interviewer. “We have been preparing for this change, or this trend.
“Whenever the customer wants, or the market turns, we can switch over.”
Lee noted paper straws are more expensive than the plastic variety.
“Paper product is about four times more expensive than plastic,” Lee told WFMZ-TV.
Biodegradable plastic straws are already available on Amazon, and Loliware, Beacon, N.Y., produces 100-percent plastic-free, edible straws made from algae (seaweed).
Lee also told WFMZ-TV that Fuling has already received patents for biodegradable plant-based plastics.
I am old enough to remember when grocery store cashiers first began asking customers, “paper or plastic?” referring to the type of bag they wanted for their groceries.
Now, customers often bring their own canvas bags to the stores, or they bring previously used paper or plastic bags.
I also have used paper straws to drink soda.
Tiny pieces of the paper usually break off and end up in my mouth along with the soda, and the entire straw tends to collapse before the beverage is consumed.
I am certain by the time this controversy moves on to the back page and a new issue takes over front-page news, viable and cost-effective alternatives to plastic straws will be found.
Of one thing I am certain, I will drink from a cup before I sip soda through an edible seaweed straw.
That would be the last straw!