The Plastic Straw Debate

7 October, 2020

What is The Plastic Straw Debate, you may ask?

What is even there to debate about something that is so commonsensical?

You know what, you are right. There’s nothing there to debate about whether the ban made sense or not, but there certainly is a possibility for a debate on whether the decision is in favour of all of us?

I know this might come as a shock to most of you reading this but I feel the legislation overlooked something or rather someone.

They overlooked all the people who earned their livelihoods from this industry. Now, it’s not that I am against the idea of banning plastic, but I am not convinced with the way it was brought into effect. With no exit plan or strategy for the manufacturers apart from suggesting them to switch over to a superior, eco-friendlier alternative is not how it works.

Let’s try to think by being in their shoes.

Say, you are the owner of a manufacturing facility creating plastic straws, earbuds and basically all the things that were banned. It took you years to build this business and back then, it was legal in every way to own a unit of such sort. It was even in trend given the ease of handling and usability of these materials. You have some few hundred workers working for you, and everyone, including you, earns a livelihood from this business.

Now suddenly, you are asked to bring it down. You aren’t told how you should do it, what alternatives can you adopt, if it’s feasible to even switch to something else, how to earn your livelihood and serve those few hundreds under you to sustain their needs.

And do you think a suggestion would have worked because what took years to build can’t be changed in a span of a few months, not even accounting the times we are in when every business is just trying to stay afloat?

I am sorry for the aggression here, but we cannot discount such a big industry that feeds thousands, if not more just because we realised what used to be a convenient option five years back is choking up the planet.

Over the last five years, I have been successfully transitioning clients to ISO14001:2015, with one part of that process including going through a PESTLE analysis with members of their Senior Management teams. One of the things we do is to look at the internal and external issues that are likely to affect the business and identify the opportunities that could help us overcome any potential risks or “threats”. This is simply looking at the context of the business.

During this discussion, you simply must consider the needs and expectations of your interested parties, such as customers, supply chains, and environmental legislators.

The plastic straw debate

This whole social movement to ban plastic straws is a good thing for the environment, I am behind it, I’m not a straw user and I can’t imagine people are really going to buy into the paper straw revolution. Now, on the manufacturing side of the straw debate there are undoubtedly a lot of displeased straw producers, so let’s discuss their situation and how it relates to sustainability.

If you were a straw manufacturer, your PESTLE analysis would have forced you to consider future legislation, changes in societal attitudes, sustainable resource consumption, the future of waste management, and the potential redundancy for straws.

In the last couple of years, we have seen the highly-respected and influential David Attenborough make numerous anti-plastic pledges in order to drive home the point about marine plastic, including when showing a turtle having a straw removed from its nose. We’ve also seen China lead a trend for overseas ‘recycling nations’ to increase their quality limits and refuse UK waste plastic exports. The combination of social pressure and waste management difficulties have created a perfect recipe for change, and so we are now observing many businesses switch to paper and metal straws.

So, even without a legal driver, those with a sense for the environment and the evasion of unnecessary pollution are ditching single-use plastic straws.

So what now for straw manufacturers?

Society may be looking at straw manufacturers and thinking ‘victory, we have nearly expelled you!’, but what about the communities and families who depend on the income from those jobs? Sustainability is about the Triple Bottom Line – People, Planet, Profit. If people suffer, as a result, victory is lessened and often nullified. The three Ps are only successful and fully sustainable when there are social, environmental and economic victories.

So, did those people working at the straw manufacturing companies see the changes coming? Did they pay attention to the anti-plastic movements and the shift in society away from plastic straws?

Perhaps those people did predict this, but did they adapt? Did they plan ahead? How did they look to solve their monumental sustainability issues? Did they say ‘We’ve always done it this way’, plug their ears, and simply hope to ride out an uncertain and unsustainable future? It’s hard to say.

The ‘War on Plastics’ raises a lot of questions. Where will we find the answers?

I still stand against plastic but if it comes at the stake of a human unable to suffice its needs without being at fault then I am sorry, I’d rather compromise on the former or try to find a better solution.

This has to be a win-win game because only then we’ll actually be able to say that this is what we need, the world needs.

The below image tells how huge is the plastic industry.


Even if we consider the single-use plastic industry to comprise just 1% of the whole, it still amounts to substantial numbers that cannot be neglected


I would like to close this by reiterating that I am not against the ban and having worked in the field for years, I understand the havoc plastic has created and can further create if not used mindfully.

The concern is about our fellow workers who would be left in unfortunate situations because of this ban.

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