Starbucks to Discontinue Plastic Straws; Conservatives Should Cheer

Starbucks, the formerly elite coffee chain that is now a stalwart of middle-American strip malls, has announced that it will phase out plastic straws by 2020. All 28,000 of the company’s outlets will ditch them over the next couple of years. Instead, the chain will offer “recyclable strawless lids and alternative-material straws, like paper or compostable plastic,” CNBC reports.

It’s hard not to look at videos like this, which capture the hideous despoiling of the Pacific Ocean by plastic waste, and not cheer Starbucks’ decision. According to estimates, the world’s oceans are home to more than 165 billion tons of the stuff, and they have a terrible effect on wildlife. Plastic is a highly useful product—durable, flexible, and cheap to produce. But a consequence of its durability is its resistance to decomposition. It’s easy to make, but hard to get rid of.

So Starbucks is doing the right thing, particularly given the development of new, more environmentally-friendly straws, which will hardly inconvenience consumers. And it’s doing so for the right reason, one that even the most anti-“tree hugger” of conservatives should celebrate: Market pressure.

There’s no government mandate forcing Starbucks to ditch straws. In America, Seattle is the only major city to have passed a ban on single-use straws; the coffee giant, which happens to be based in the city, could have simply ditched them there and continued on as normal elsewhere. Major corporations have no trouble tailoring specific practices to specific markets: Safeway gladly hands out plastic bags in Washington, D.C., but does not offer them in Portland (which has banned them). Globally, only Ireland the U.K. have bans on straws in the works.

Starbucks’s move is proof of what conservatives have said all along: That absent heavy-handed government mandates, companies can sometimes be trusted to do the right thing, through a combination of consumer pressure (a petition has circulated calling for Starbucks to lose straws), product innovation, and—not too sound too naïve, I hope—a sense of corporate ethics.

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