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The last straw before it breaks the camel's back

Date posted: 25 July 2018

The UK is the biggest user of plastic straws in Europe. We suck on, then throw away, over an estimated eight billion each year, almost double our nearest sucking rivals in Germany. But is the tide finally turning?

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It seems if you have a soft drink the management think your lips need help in the imbibing process

Clare Fischer

You know how it is, you pop in for a crafty cocktail and before you can say ‘shaken not stirred’ you’re presented with a drink that has all the bells and whistles in it, from paper umbrellas to the obligatory cherry. And then – at the very last moment – just when you think there’s no room in the glass, the bartender pops in a plastic straw to add to your drinking pleasure.

Did you ask for it? No. Do you need it? No. Is there a point to it? None at all.

Plastic straws are handed out like candy. In the pub, in restaurants and bars, in cafes. It seems if you have a soft drink the management think your lips need help in the imbibing process. When I was a kid, about half a century ago, a straw was a treat. Seriously! It made going out to eat worthwhile. I’d demand a straw and then suck up my drink in double quick time and make that slurping noise when I tried to suck up the dregs from the glass. My mum said this was ‘common’ and banned me from straws.

My childhood was straw free. I felt I lost out. There were things on Blue Peter that I couldn’t make because I didn’t have straws to blow the paint through. So when my own children were young… I lavished straws on them. Their childhood was a world full of straws. I let them slurp up the dregs. I let them make collages with paint blown via the little plastic tube. Their friends begged to come to our house because it was full of plastic straws.

And now I’m thinking… what on earth have I done? Of course that was back in the early nineties, when thoughts of polluting our oceans weren’t on the radar of mass media. Thankfully that’s all changing now because the damage done by dinosaurs like me between the 1960s and 1990s has come home to roost and so a war is being waged on straws – and it’s stepping up a level. Since we launched our #STOPThePlasticTide appeal at the end of last year, so much has happened surrounding straws.

SCOTLAND HAS BEEN LEADING THE WAY
We supported Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, when she launched her ‘Final Straw’ campaign calling on the Scottish and UK governments to crack down on the use of straws. After pressure from all sides, including MCS, in February the Scottish Parliament stopped using plastic drinking straws in its own cafes, bar and canteen! We visited Sunnyside Primary School in Glasgow and they went on to help the village of Ullapool become the first straw free village in Scotland. We supported an anti-straw campaign in the Scottish Mail.

Outside of Scotland we backed the campaign by the London Evening Standard to persuade city bars, clubs, pubs and restaurants to stop giving straws out. Our Ocean Ambassador, TV presenter Lizzie Daly, has thrown down the gauntlet to Cardiff in her ‘DO YOU SUCK CARDIFF?’ campaign to ban plastic straws from as many establishments in the city as possible during 2018. In February it was announced that Buckingham Palace would phase out the use of plastic straws in cafes and canteens on site. It means companies seeking royal warrants will also need to comply with the Palace’s environmental policy.

Marriott International, London City Airport and Eurostar joined a heap of other companies, including All Bar One, JD Wetherspoon, Costa Coffee, Pizza Express and Wagamama, to say they’ll no longer be offering plastic straws to customers. And then BOOM! At the end of February, Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, dropped a massive hint on straws. When asked whether he might outlaw plastic straws after Britain leaves the EU, he told a podcast interview with the Daily Telegraph: “Watch this space.” While maintaining a balanced approach would be needed, he said: “If it is bad, then banning it is a good thing.” He added that putting a ban in place would be easier post-Brexit due to EU laws, said the Telegraph.

His hint came as figures from the House of Commons Commission showed the number of straws purchased by Parliament has doubled in the last three years – from 6,000 in 2014/15 to 12,250 in 2016/17 – with SNP MP David Linden describing the increase as “pretty alarming”.

**Back at MCS, we’re encouraging all businesses** that supply straws to their customers to no longer readily provide single-use plastic straws but instead other eco-friendly alternatives ON REQUEST only.

We’ve created a great ‘Business Action Pack’ that provides all the support outlets need to make themselves a straw-free establishment. To receive a copy of this pack please contact laura.parry@mcsuk.org. We could be approaching a time when straws are well and truly off the menu.


This article was written by Clare Fischer (MCS), for our Spring 2018 membership magazine ‘Marine Conservation’. If you’d like to receive our fantastic quarterly magazine straight to your door, you can become a member from as little as £3.50 per month.

Actions you can take

  1. Download our straw poster
  2. Download our 'Living without single-use Plastic' guide
  3. Refuse straws at your local restaurant/bar
  4. Help stop the plastic tide
  5. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2017
  6. Download straw graphic for cafe/bar counter
  7. Join the Plastic Challenge
  8. Share #stopsucking

Did you know?…

Since the carrier bag charge came in across the UK, the Great British Beach Clean has recorded 40% fewer bags on beaches

We removed 568,000 pieces of litter from our coasts in one year

Globally, plastic litter has reached every part of the world’s oceans

The future of fisheries is being decided

Fisheries CampaignThe UK government has opened a public consultation asking how we think they should manage our fisheries after Brexit through a new Fisheries Bill.

Act now!