Representational image.Creative Commons.

Starbucks Corp said on Monday it will begin phasing out the use of plastic straws at its restaurants by 2020, giving environmentalists a sizeable victory in their campaign to convince restaurants to abandon plastic utensils.

The Seattle-based chain said it would eliminate single-use plastic straws globally at its 28,000 locations. The straws will be replaced by new recyclable strawless lids and alternative material straws.

Its announcement came just days after its hometown of Seattle barred plastic straws and utensils at restaurants, amid a broader global push to discourage the use of plastic straws and other one-time use plastics

"For our partners and customers, this is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways," Starbucks Chief Executive Kevin Johnson said in a statement.

McDonalds plastic straws
Plastic straws can be seen at a McDonald's restaurant, after it was revealed that they are to replace their plastic straws with paper ones in UK and Ireland restaurants, in London, BritainREUTERS/Toby Melville

Last month, rival McDonald's Corp, the world's largest restaurant chain, announced plans to transition to paper straws at its UK and Ireland restaurants, beginning in September with completion in 2019.

The U.N. Environment Programme estimates that some 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year - the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck full of plastic every minute - killing birds and marine life and compromising the ocean ecosystem.

Plastic straws represent a comparatively small amount of all plastic waste. However, they are more difficult to recycle than other plastic items. In contrast, paper straws are often compostable. When disposed of in a landfill, paper straws decompose at a much faster rate than plastic ones.

For businesses, paper straws are also more expensive than their plastic counterparts. Per 250 straws at UK-based catering equipment company Drinkstuff, paper straws cost about $8.62 (£6.49), versus $1.66 (£1.25) for plastic, for instance.

"Taken in isolation I don't know that anyone would argue that slightly higher straw costs are going to break the backs" of restaurant owners, said David Henkes, senior principal at Technomic foodservice consulting company. "But you couple it with rising costs in a whole lot of other categories and that's where the challenge comes... It's a small increase here and a small increase there."

A patron holds an iced beverage at a Starbucks coffee store in Pasadena, California
A patron holds an iced beverage at a Starbucks coffee store in Pasadena, CaliforniaREUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Grassroots conservation groups have been among the most vocal opponents of plastic straws, though the push to paper and other biodegradable and recyclable materials has found support in some corporate boardrooms as well. Earlier this year, the fifth-largest U.S. carrier, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, said it would be going strawless, beginning this month.

[ Source- Reuters]