A plastic McDonald's straw.Photo: AP
The first paper straw factory in the "last several decades" in Britain is planning to launch in Wales as fast-food chains prepare for a planned ban on single-use plastic products throughout the UK, the Guardian reported, with some chains already preparing their own plans to phase out plastic in favour of paper.
The plant, run by a company named Transcend Packaging, is not in operation yet pending the delivery of manufacturing equipment from China. But according to the Guardian, they have already inked a deal with 1,361 McDonald's restaurants throughout the UK as well as other restaurant groups:
"We spotted a huge opportunity, and we went for it," said Mark Varney, sales and marketing director of the newly created paper straw manufacturer Transcend Packaging. "When the BBC's Blue Planet II was on the telly and the government started talking about the dangers of plastic straws, we saw a niche in the market."
"It is great that all these businesses are phasing out plastic straws, but the problem for them was where to get paper ones from," Varney said. "Everyone is having to import them from China, and when you look at the carbon footprint of that it kind of defeats the exercise."
A Finnish firm named Huhtamaki with a plant in Northern Ireland has also signed a deal with McDonald's but "is understood to not yet have paper straw production capabilities," the Guardian wrote. The paper added that firms and activists alike credit the BBC's Blue Planet II, which featured a pilot whale calf who died after allegedly ingesting chemical byproducts of plastic waste, for raising awareness around the issue — though bans on plastic microbeads and charges for plastic bags have already gone into effect in England.
The European Union, which the UK is set to probably leave soon, is mulling a separate ban on numerous varieties of single-use plastic products and implementing rules intended to make their producers cover more of the costs of cleanup. Essentially, the UK is racing the EU towards a ban in order to avoid some preventable embarrassment.
But regardless of why the single-use plastic bans are planned, the end result will be better for the environment. As CNN noted, the recovery rate for plastic is frankly horrible compared to other materials:
On a global basis, only 14% of plastic is collected for recycling. The reuse rate is terrible compared to other materials — 58% of paper and up to 90% of iron and steel gets recycled.
Research shows there will be more plastic than fish by weight in the world's oceans by 2050, which has spurred policy makers, individuals and companies into action.
In less charming news, the Independent reports that in the four months since China stopped accepting imports of recyclable waste from other countries, exports to Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand from the UK have skyrocketed — bad news, given all three countries rank in the top 10 "for quantity of plastic waste entering the ocean." Weeks ago, a pilot whale that died after being rescued off the coast of Thailand drew international attention due to the discovery of 8kg of plastic bags in its stomach.