When holidaying recently in Lanzarote, I was very conscious of the number of colourful plastic straws served with my all-inclusive cocktails. To be fair, I found it more ironic than disturbing, considering that the hotel I was staying at prides itself on its green credentials.
In fact, the whole island does – step inside the terminal at Arrecife airport and you’ll be greeted with artwork displays promoting the detrimental effects of ocean plastics and the impact of water scarcity given the dry climate in the region.
Do all-inclusive cocktails need to be decorated with colourful plastic straws? Given that the cocktails are somewhat watered down, some might argue they work well as a distraction. But I honestly felt quite guilty drinking out of them. And I put this entirely down to the Blue Planet effect.
Plastic straws are on the ‘most unwanted’ list of single use undesirables right now. The UK Government is proposing to ban them, food and drink operators like McDonalds and Wetherspoons have pledged to phase them out, and various petitions are in circulation pressurising supermarkets to do the same.
Of course, straws are just the tip of the iceberg. You can’t just consider certain plastics in isolation; you also have to take into account where exemptions might apply. Plastic straws serve a medical purpose, they are also deemed vital drinking aids for many disabled people. And while cutting down on unnecessary use can only be a good thing, I do wonder if alternatives will just create their own complexities – those unintended consequences we often find difficult to foresee.
For me, one of the core problems that needs addressed here is how to prevent leakage of such materials out of our production and consumption systems. If we had better capture mechanisms for single use plastics, underpinned with investment in high value recycling and reprocessing – and crucially, market demand for these reprocessed plastics, it could be a game changer.
I’m currently working with a client on an engagement project that touches on these issues, particularly perceptions around plastics use and reduction. It will be fascinating to see how the outcome of this project can inform debate going forward.
For what it’s worth, I think carbon impacts need to be factored into any discussion around plastics. I’m not seeing much evidence of lifecycle thinking when it comes to plastics coverage right now. I’m happy to ditch the colourful straws in my Pina Colada, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, hey?