Most Australians are united in the desire to keep our beautiful beaches and waterways clear of single-use plastics, but there’s one element of the debate that consistently polarises people: paper straws.
At the beginning of this year, Aldi swapped all the plastic straws in its home brand juice boxes, or poppers, for paper ones as part of the supermarket’s pledge to reduce its single-use plastics in its own range by 25 per cent before 2025.
The result, however, hasn’t been unanimously welcomed by shoppers, with many taking to Facebook to lament the change.
One woman shared a photo of the paper straws to the Aldi Fans Australia page this week to praise the move, saying, “No plastic straw, paper ones. Good on you Aldi”, but the post was met with some very mixed reactions.
“I understand the want to get rid of plastic, but the texture of these is awful,” one person wrote.
“We discovered this today, my son said ‘yuck this is gross’,” commented another.
“Horrible idea. My toddler would render that straw useless after sucking it for 30 seconds,” added a third.
Others shared how the move to paper straws has forced them to find more environmentally friendly options.
“As a mum of a special needs child, paper straws are the worst. I get a reusable plastic or silicone ones instead,” one woman said.
“Cannot stand paper straws, they are useless, so I brought stainless steel straws for the car and at home, easily cleaned,” another remarked.
Some people didn’t think the removal of just the plastic straws went far enough and pointed out that there is still a lot of waste associated with buying single-use juice boxes when there are convenient reusable options available.
“Aren’t these cartons plastic lined? Anyone who is seriously concerned about plastic straws, should really be using a reusable drink bottle,” wrote one Aldi fan. “For kids who prefer ‘straws’, lots of drink bottles come with them. Wash and reuse. Not only cuts back on plastic but rubbish in general.”
Someone else said, “I love how people carry on about this. It’s out of pure laziness. If you don’t like paper straws buy your own and pop it in your bag or car... Or use the one built into your face.”
“I use reusable straws but also getting some reusable juice boxes so you can just refill them rather than have to buy them individually,” another shopper commented.
A spokesperson for the supermarket told Yahoo Lifestyle that the replacement of paper straws will "remove more than 18 tonnes of single-use plastic from landfill annually."
"We’re really proud to be the first supermarket to remove plastic straws from our drinks products. We acknowledge that pursuing initiatives that reduce our environmental impact might involve changes that customers aren’t yet used to, but we stand by our decisions.
"Sustainability is incredibly important to us and we’ve been really excited by the overwhelmingly positive response from the majority of our customers towards this change. We look forward to continuing to find new ways to provide a sustainable experience at ALDI."
Why does it have to be straws when there's so much other plastic around?
A lot of anger has been directed at the fact that paper straws offer an inferior consumer experience for a relatively small reduction of plastic, while many other products come wrapped in seemingly unnecessary amounts of plastic whose removal would constitute a much larger impact on landfill without necessarily hurting the consumer.
“In the scheme of things being environmentally friendly, I think there’s a lot more stuff they could replace to make a difference,” one person commented, “When you see how much plastic is inside the boxes of kids toys for example, is that really necessary? There would be more than 50 straws worth of plastic on 1 toy.”
“I can not STAND paper straws, and with so many other USELESS plastic packaging items being produced, I don’t understand the obsession with plastic straw removal,” another wrote, “Why not make the packaging so that you don’t need a straw at all... I bet these drinks still come in a six-pack wrapped in plastic.”
While definitely a valid point, this fails to consider that plastic straws, in particular, tend to end up tossed in our parks, bushland and waterways, with Clean Up Australia volunteers listing them as the twelfth most common item they find.
Many factors contribute to this including the fact that plastic straws are very common, are mostly used to consume drinks on the go (which makes disposing of them properly harder than if you were at home), and that they are so lightweight they're easily picked up and carried into the environment by the wind.
Plastic straws are also very damaging when they end up in the environment, and not just to turtles. Many marine animals mistake small plastics in our waterways for food but unlike food, these plastics don’t break down in their stomachs, and in the case of fish and other seafood, can be passed up the food chain until we consume it ourselves.
The fact remains, however, that plastic straw removal is just one piece of the puzzle, and if shoppers are having to sacrifice the convenience of plastic straws, shouldn’t suppliers and big businesses also be making greater sacrifices to reduce their single-use plastic to prevent it from ending up in the environment or in landfill?
As part of the same initiative to reduce its single-use plastic, Aldi has set a target to eliminate the food waste it sends to landfill by 2023, and to eliminate all waste it sends to landfill by 2025.
It also powers one hundred per cent of its operations through renewable energy, which is in part thanks to a massive operation to install over 100,000 solar panels on the roofs of its stores and warehouses last year.
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