Greg Sage, Communications Director for Greene King, discusses the recent decision to replace all plastic straws with compostable PLA straws throughout Greene King pubs.

"At Greene King we spoke to our customers who told us that, while they wanted to keep using straws, they also wanted us to be socially responsible."

There have been countless campaigns on single-use plastic recently. It’s no surprise given the amount we use. Take the simple straw, something many consumers rarely think twice about picking up – it is estimated the UK uses around 8.5 billion of them every year, enough to go around the world 45 times.

So, I’m pleased to see the Treasury’s announcement recently that it received a record number of responses to its call for evidence on the use of plastics. Over 162,000 submissions were made and came from a diverse group of individuals, businesses and campaign groups. I also applaud the Evening Standard’s ‘Last Straw campaign’, which has helped highlight the impact of plastics on the environment, oceans and marine-life.

Pubs, bars and restaurants are showing encouraging signs of taking action – whether that’s through the use of paper straws or through biodegradable plastic alternatives. But the real challenge is what happens to those straws once they’ve been used.

This is a complex issue. Even innovative compostable straws can still take hundreds of years to decompose if they end up in landfill, due to lack of oxygen. So, while consumers believe they are enjoying a more environmentally-friendly drink, it is very possible their straw won’t be recycled and may go to general waste.

At Greene King we spoke to our customers who told us that, while they wanted to keep using straws, they also wanted us to be socially responsible. In February we removed our plastic straws from our bars, only providing them on request, and ensured those that are used are recycled. Within weeks we saw a 60% reduction in the straws we used, saving 18 million straws a year. Since then we have been working hard with our waste partners, SWRnewstar, to develop an even greener solution.

From this September, we are introducing compostable PLA straws, made from corn starch and sugar cane, across all of our 1,750 pubs. We have developed a unique closed-loop solution, which means our straws will be segregated at the pub, taken back through our supply chain and decomposed in an ‘in vessel composter’ (IVC) at a commercial composting facility.

This innovative process means we can ensure our straws are disposed of correctly and go on to naturally decompose in as little as 12 weeks. Consequently, customers using a straw will have the peace of mind knowing it will transform into nutrient-rich soil which can be used to fertilise plants and crops.

We’re proud to be pioneering this solution for our sector and hope others will follow suit. Before they can do so though, we need government’s help. If more hospitality businesses are to end the use of plastic straws, we need more commercial PLA compositing facilities to cope with increased demand. Government’s upcoming Waste and Resources Strategy offers the perfect opportunity to support this and we urge the Environment Secretary to take note. We must act now if we’re to avoid the environmental short straw.