As the use of plastic straws is becoming more of an environmental focus, what is arguably the most famous coffeehouse name is being challenged by one nonprofit group to discontinue their use.
As You Sow, a foundation that promotes corporate social responsibility, is seeking the change at Starbucks Corp. through a shareholder resolution that includes several environmental requests.
The Oakland-based group also wants to engage Starbucks on cup recyclability, both in terms of material content and collection and processing. As You Sow wants Starbucks to increase recycled content and promote greater use of reusable cups.
Plastic straws are part of the larger overall discussion about plastic ocean pollution. The city of Seattle recently indicated it will begin enforcing a law that bans plastic straws and utensils next summer, according to local reports.
"Some of the activist groups see this as a doable first goal that's easier to deal with than cups," said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow, said about straw usage.
Publicity about plastic ocean pollution generated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Ocean Conservancy has sharpened the focus on straws.
"It's not like it's rocket science, there's always been paper straws out there," MacKerron said.
While paper straws might not hold up as well as plastic straws, he believes consumers can be convinced to use them.
Or, he said, straws don't have to be used at all. "Culturally, straws are overused."
Starbucks, As You Sow claims, has fallen short of its environmental goals. And the non-profit group wants to re-engage the company on the issues. "What's the Plan B?" MacKerron asked. "I think it's important to have this conversation again and understand what they think is possible."
The shareholder resolution states: "Proponent believes that a comprehensive policy on sustainable packaging for Starbucks consistent with its environmental leadership posture includes at a minimum: making cups recyclable, ensuring that cups collected are actually recycled, increasing recycled content, removing plastic straws, and identifying a feasible path toward a scaled commitment to its original goal for reusable cups."
Starbucks could not be immediately reached for comment Oct. 4.