There's a significant push these days to kick the plastic straw habit. The waste created by plastic straws is enormous. In the United States alone, 500 million straws are thrown away every day. That's enough straws to wrap around the Earth 2.5 times each day, according to One Less Straw.
People are beginning to tell restaurant servers not to bring straws. Starting this summer, Seattle will ban plastic straws and utensils in all businesses that sell food and drinks. In California, there's a bill being considered that would require restaurants to only give straws when customers request them. Scotland plans to be plastic straw free by the end of 2019.
McDonald's is responding to this push by eliminating plastic straws in its 1,300 stores in the U.K. and switching to biodegradable paper straws, which diners will have to ask for. They won't automatically be handed out with each beverage. The transition will begin this September with all stores making the switch by next year.
The fast-food company will also conduct trial runs of this concept in the U.S., Norway and France in select restaurants.
Impact of plastic straws
Although straws can be recycled, they rarely are. Instead, the petroleum-based straws end up in landfills, along the side of roads, and where they do the most harm, in our oceans. They aren't the biggest polluter of our waterways, but they can be some of the most hazardous to fish and birds. Their size makes them easy for marine life to eat, and plastic items like straws and forks have become embedded in the noses of sea turtles — as you can see in the disturbing video above.
It's estimated that 71 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of turtles are found with plastic in their stomachs — all ingested from avoidable waste created by humans, according to Strawless Ocean. When these animals ingest the plastic, they have a 50 percent mortality rate.
Alternatives to plastic straws
McDonald's is opting for a paper alternative. That's not the only option, but it's certainly a good solution in situations where straws will be tossed. However, if you like to use straws, you can avoid the one-time-use versions with a little planning. Bamboo, glass and metal are also used to make reusable straws. You can carry it with you, or even keep it in the glove compartment of your car, for those times when you want to use a drinking straw.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in April 2018.