PLASTIC STRAWS: SOLVING THE BIG SMALL PROBLEM
Although a single plastic straw seems innocuous as a pollutant due to its small size, it becomes a gigantic contributor to plastic pollution due to the enormous volume used daily—in America alone, 500 million pieces are used every day. A big portion of this never get recycled due to its size and types of plastic used, and end up in landfills or bodies of water where it further breaks down into microplastics that eventually enter our food chain upon ingestion by aquatic life.
In the Philippines, unrecycled plastics is a huge ecological problem as well, being a huge market for the sachet economy and no strong approach to facilitate systematic recycling. It ranks third in the world for being one of the worst plastic polluters of the ocean. The reality of hundreds of thousands of plastic straws never being properly recycled is evident in the troubling volumes of plastic straws collected during repeated local coastal cleanups.
There are and have been many calls worldwide for the ban on plastic straws. Although I personally agree with it as being the most effective solution to curb this problem, one cannot deny the convenience it affords users; I cannot see retail food businesses (fast food chains, especially) doing away with it voluntarily-- not without tough political will banning it. Many alternatives have been put on the table for businesses shift to and make drinking straws as green as possible (e.g. glass, bamboo, metal), but businesses never really adopted it and so the problem of plastic straws persists. The dilemma is understandable: how can a business roll out these expensive green alternatives at massive volumes daily? What can encourage them to take a step towards being more green and see it won’t hurt their business?
With this in mind, alternatives and modifications to the design of the cup+cover+straw set need to work within a pragmatic framework and the S-CUP and S-COVER are guided and addresses the three main points:
- Convenience: the S-CUP and S-COVER retain the simplicity of use of the vacuum straw for their customers’ convenience
- Non-Disruptive: adoption of the S-CUP or S-COVER result to minimal operational/workflow disruption and change, including inventory storage and transport
- Cost Efficiency: the S-CUP and S-COVER essentially use the same design and material (PP, PET, HIPS) as their current cups making costing very competitive
While meeting all three business concerns, the S-CUP and S-COVER manage to address the recycling problems by using a uniform type of plastic for the entire set, increasing the size of the pieces by integrating the straw to the cup and cover, and eliminates the straw as a separate item. Not only does this increase the rate of recovery and recyclability for each set, but increases the possibility of businesses actually adopting this alternative and completely removing separate plastic straws from their inventory.
We are also considering the inclusion of a Recycler Collection System to systematically ensure maximum amount of these highly recyclable S-CUP and S-COVER is directly transferred from the food establishment to recycling centers. Though aligned with the competition's overall vision, this would expand the scope of the S-CUP/S-COVER project, so we welcome the input of judges/advisors if this could be included or not.