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Rethinking the ritual of straws to reduce packaging waste

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For most of us, straws have featured as a part of our lives from a young age. Whether it was attached to our juice carton in our lunch boxes at Kindergarten or as a fun part of a Happy Meal treat at McDonald’s on a Saturday afternoon, straws have become a firm feature of many of our eating and drinking occasions. And their place in our lives has strong links back to happy childhood memories. Always a difficult behaviour to change.  

According to a recent study by the National Park Service, it's been estimated that Americans alone use 500 million straws daily. That’s enough straws to wrap around the world, twice. So, although straws are relatively small, that amount of waste really adds up.

And the most frustrating thing? Except for people with medical needs, straws are totally unnecessary for beverage consumption. And although straws amount to a tiny fraction of the eight million tons of plastic waste that flow into the world’s oceans, their size makes them one of the most insidious polluters because they entangle marine animals and are consumed by fish. (We all have horrifying memories of the video that went viral in 2015 of scientists removing a straw embedded in a sea turtle’s nose.)

We’re obviously not the first people to identify this problem but what’s clear is that no-one has yet come up with a tangible, and desirable, solution. The paper straw is a prime example - there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to suck your drink up through a soggy straw that’s simultaneously disintegrating into your mouth and your drink.

From our own research tracking daily straw use, we identified that not only are plastic straws a problem but the challenge they present is escalated when you consider that many plastic straws are also wrapped in plastic.

As part of our research phase, we also attended the United Nations Oceans Conference in New York on June 7th 2017. One of our favourite speakers was Dr Helge Wendenburg who said:

“It is unrealistic to expect we will stop making or using plastics. Solar cells require plastics. 3D printing, the Internet of Things, all require plastics. We must be smart. Plastics waste is valuable, as we must continue to figure out ways to reuse and recycle.”

He makes a very good point and we’re also very aware that it’s naive and unrealistic to think that the world’s use of, and reliance on, plastic can be completely reversed. So with that in mind, we will focus on rethinking the ritual of the straw - from how it’s experienced and how it defines a distinctly accessible and fun sipping experience to how it’s packaged and produced.

"The best way to anticipate the future is to craft it." 

Eric Liedtke, Adidas CMO speaking at the United Nations Oceans Conference on June 7th 2017.

How does this research relate to our Use Cases?

This relates to User Case 3 -Straws and take-away coffee lids.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

To create even small change, you need to rethink the system. We hope to change the ritual around the experience of using a straw and find a solution that retains its functionality whilst being desirable - for the consumer and the planet.

Tell us about yourself

The research was carried out by Pearlfisher's global teams in New York, San Francisco, London and Copenhagen. Pearlfisher is an independent creative business – the definitive partnership of Futures, Strategy and Design. We build the world’s most desirable brands – Challengers & Icons.


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Hi Pearlfisher !

There are 3 days left in the ideas phase of the circular design challenge! It would be great to see your ideas there, submit your idea via -

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