Countdown has rid itself of plastic straws after mounting pressure for supermarkets to reduce plastic waste. The movement to ban plastic straws has built from environmental groups worldwide and locally.
WeAreTENZING and Sustainable Coastlines are local pressure groups who have impressed on both the grocery and foodservice businesses that they’re best off without plastic straws. Sustainable Coastlines has picked up more than 65,000 plastic straws in the past decade – the item has been called one of the worst items polluting the marine environment.
Considering the well-known ecological damage plastic straws cause, it’s no wonder business feel they should phase them out. However, disabled advocacy groups have stated that Countdown’s – and other businesses’ – straw-free policies are “a kick in the teeth.”
In February, the Wellington Hospitality Group announced it would stop using plastic straws in its 25 city venues; and the council looked at a city-wide ban. Auckland’s Uptown Area announced a week ago that it would no longer supply plastic straws.
“It reeks of cynical chasing of the green dollar,” stated Disabled Persons Assembly policy and relationships manager Esther Woodbury.
Uptown Business Association manager Gary Holmes said he had complete sympathy with Woodbury. Businesses wanted to go plastic straw-free to limit damage to the environment. “An unintended consequence of this is cafes might not have been aware there was a group that would be affected by it,” Holmes said. "Now that we're aware of this we'll certainly make sure all our people are aware of this."
Most plastic alternatives have been ruled out by the DPA. Paper straws are too fragile, and bamboo and metal straws aren’t flexible. "Paper straws dissolve and can become choking hazards and metal straws are obviously very hard; they can hurt someone with spasticity or a tremor," said Woodbury.
TANK Juice is using a compostable cornstarch straw, and Countdown is looking into silicone, both of which are alternative straws designed to have the flexibility of plastic with a little more strength than paper. Supa Shakes Ltd is in the process of converting to compostable bioplastic straws – a compromise.
Emily Tilley, a spokesperson for the DPA, said the issue was that plastic straw alternatives aren't being tested by those who need them. The DPA is encouraging businesses to get in contact if they need to find a solution that suits everyone. "Our biggest issue is that people don't run their ideas past us," said Tilley. "Come to us and we can be a link. It's a win-win situation."
One idea being floated is moving plastic straws from the party aisle to the health aisle - a plastic re-branding.
Countdown’s competitor, Foodstuffs, has said they will also phase out plastic straws. "We have already removed plastic-stemmed cotton buds, microbeads and, of course, single-use plastic bags are on the way out,” said spokeswoman Antoinette Laird. “The plastic straw is just one of a number of products we're phasing out in tandem with exploring options for customers who actually depend on these."
Hospitality New Zealand’s spokesman Nick Keene urged a sensible approach, suggesting retailers of straw-associated products make them optional. "While we are keen for our members to go plastic straw-free in the main, if people need to use straws that bend to enjoy their outing then they should be able to access these, and should let the restaurant, cafe or bar know," he commented.
Woodbury made it clear the DPA doesn’t wish harm on the environment – they just wanted businesses to let customers have the choice of a straw. “We spend enough time managing in an inaccessible world,” she commented.
Businesses that would like to work out a solution that fits everyone are encouraged to call the DPA for a consultation – on (04) 801 9100 or at email@example.com.