Call it eco-silly.
The humble plastic drinking straw is now on the chopping block as the latest target of the country’s eco-warriors. And while everyone can agree on the importance of clean oceans and eliminating waste — the alternatives to plastic straws leave a lot to be desired.
A shareholder proposal will be presented to McDonald’s on Thursday to stop its use of plastic straws altogether in the U.S., and to offer alternatives, multiple outlets reported. The mammoth international restaurant chain already announced in March it would phase out plastic straws from its 1,300 U.K. restaurants and begin a trial of paper straws in some of its locations starting in May, reported Foodandwine.com.
The fast-food chain will also begin keeping straws behind the counter in Britain — meaning customers will have to ask for them if they’d like them.
Here are the options McDonald’s might be presented with at the meeting: straws made of bamboo, paper, steel, or glass, and one made of actual straw (presumably known as a straw-straw). Other options include a water bottle or a reusable cup and straw — can you say “hotbed of germs”? — and of course, foregoing the straw all together.
The company would like its shareholders to vote against the straw study proposal. “We continue to work to find a more sustainable solution for plastic straws globally,” the chain said in a statement Monday. “In the meantime, we have adopted compostable straws in certain markets to meet regulations while we work with packaging experts to develop a planet-friendly, cost-effective answer for all McDonald’s restaurants.”
Last year McDonald’s debuted an exclusive, highly engineered straw dubbed the “Suction Tube for Reverse Axial Withdrawal,” or STRAW, for short. The name took longer to say than the actual length of time the STRAW was around: It was only available for two days, February 24 and March 1, with a scant 2,000 of them spread across the entire country.
Sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone. Bamboo seems a front-runner for the Golden Arches and others who want to put the plastic straw on the trash heap of history.
“I don’t know where you’re going to get these bamboo straws,” Jeff Stier, senior fellow at the Consumer Choice Center in Washington, D.C., told LifeZette. “I don’t know what planet they’re on by saying we’re going to save the oceans by switching to some of these outlandish alternatives.”
If activist groups want to use only bamboo straws and only frequent the establishments using those items, Stier says, they are free to do so right now.
“But I think with all of these plastic straw alternatives, we ought to read these activist claims as if it were the last straw,” he added. “We should stop believing these claims that we are destroying the earth by using convenient products.”
Stier is not alone in his thinking. Julie Gunlock, director of the Center for Progress and Innovation at the Independent Women’s Forum, also in Washington, D.C., has no problem with plastic — straws or otherwise.
“I suppose it’s fine if a company wants to switch to these paper straws, but if anybody has used one, you know they tend to disintegrate, and McDonald’s is well-known for ginormous drinks,” Gunlock told LifeZette. “I can just imagine the mouth injuries when you hand your child a glass straw and they munch into it, or it breaks and they cut their finger or their mouth — or, God forbid, they ingest glass.”
This is hardly convenient — hardly what anyone needs.
“Also, there is a reason plastic straws were invented,” she added. “They’re fantastic, they don’t disintegrate, and they last a long time, so I think this would be frustrating for consumers and for businesses.”
Even then, Gunlock doesn’t put it past McDonald’s agreeing to ban plastic straws, adding that large corporations often like to do certain things for publicity.
One could make the argument that businesses and consumers could just go without a straw. However, some people want a straw, as they believe it helps protect their teeth and gums from acidity and food dyes. The jury is still out on whether using a straw actually makes a difference — and a general web search provides a buffet of talking points for both sides of that argument.
Meanwhile, some people want straws in order to avoid spilling liquid on themselves. Others may have a child in the car who is too young to drink a beverage sans straw.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Banning plastic straws, however well-intentioned, appears to be no exception to this rule.
Chris Woodward is a reporter for American Family News and OneNewsNow.com. He lives and works in Tupelo, Mississippi.