Starbucks plans to stop offering plastic straws by 2020

Starbucks will eliminate plastic straws from all of its locations within two years, citing the environmental threat to oceans. The company becomes the largest food and beverage company to do so as calls to cut waste globally grow louder. Plastic straws have become one of the biggest targets.

Viral videos – including one depicting researchers extracting a plastic straw from a sea turtle's bleeding nostril -- is prompting some companies and municipalities to find ocean-friendlier alternatives. 

A week after its hometown banned plastic drinking straws and utensils, the Seattle company said Monday that by 2020, it will be using straws made from biodegradable materials like paper and specially designed lids. The company already offers alternative straws in Seattle.

Other cities, like Fort Meyers, have banned plastic straws as well. Similar proposals are being considered in places like New York and San Francisco.

The issue is coming up in company boardrooms, though Starbucks is taking the lead among large food chains. McDonald's shareholders voted down a proposal requesting a report on plastic straws in May, although it recently said it would switch to paper straws in the United Kingdom and Ireland by next year, and test alternatives to plastic straws in some U.S. locations.

In May, Alaska Airlines said travelers on its flights would be served drinks with compostable versions of stir straws and citrus picks: white birch for coffee and bamboo for citrus sticks. The Seattle-based carrier, which said it handed out 22 million stir straws and citrus picks last year, also said it would have non-plastic, marine-friendly drinking straws for travelers that request them.

While plastic drinking straws have become one of the more high-profile issues environmentally, they make up only about 4 percent of the plastic trash by number of pieces, and far less by weight. Straws add up to about 2,000 tons of the nearly 9 million tons of plastic waste that ends up in the water each year.

The strawless lids will begin to appear in Seattle and Vancouver Starbucks this fall, with phased rollouts within the U.S. and Canada to follow next year. A global rollout of the strawless lids will follow, beginning in Europe where the will be used in select stores in France and the Netherlands, as well as in the United Kingdom.