80% of Singapore consumers ready to ditch plastic straws

The city-state uses 2.2 million straws a day, but consumers are ready to ditch an unnecessary habit, finds a new report released on this year’s World Environment Day.

Colourful paper straws
Colourful paper straws. Singapore consumes and throws away 2.2 million straws daily. Image: Marco Verch, CC BY 2.0

Food and beverage outlets that offer alternatives to plastic straws get the thumbs up from the majority of Singaporean consumers, according to a recent report on the city-state’s straw consumption habits.

Released on United Nations’ annual World Environment Day, The Final Straw: Tackling plastic straw consumption in Singapore found that 86 per cent of consumers felt “positive” or “very positive” towards businesses that make the effort to find alternatives to disposable plastic straws.

Singapore uses 2.2 million straws a day, which is enough to line the country’s borders more than twice.

Most of those surveyed—62 per cent of 260 respondents—said they used straws because they come with the drinks they purchased.

The second most common reason for using straws was because it makes drinking easier.

The study also found that food centres and hawker stores, popular choices for Singaporeans eating out, were responsible for 37 per cent of the nation’s straw use.

But 80 per cent of the survey’s respondents said they were ready to ditch plastic straws and opt for alternatives. Jonathan Tostevin, chief executive officer of social enterprise The Final Straw that was one of the organisations behind the report, said in a statement that consumers were “sending a clear message to food and drink outlets to reduce plastic straw usage or provide sustainable alternatives”.

To break it down further, 84 per cent of consumers said they were happy to go without straws, while 81 per cent said they would be willing to use more environmentally friendly substitutes.

The focus of the study, conducted by business advisory company AlphaBeta in conjunction with social enterprises The Final Straw and the Cyan Project, coincides with the theme of this year’s World Environment Day, which calls for the world to reduce the use of plastic and #BeatPlasticPollution.

AlphaBeta director Fraser Thompson told Eco-Business that retailers worry that cutting plastic straws from their service would drive customers away, but research has shown that Singaporean consumers are supportive of this.

Businesses can help Singapore cut down on the use of plastic straws by tracking the number of straws used in their operations, committing to providing alternatives, and to track progress and promote their actions online to get support.

“Simple things like giving a straw upon request would be an easy place to start, rather than offering them automatically. These things can make a difference, and [businesses] can hopefully be more aspirational and even provide no straws, or sustainable alternatives,” commented Thompson.

Explaining the rationale behind such a measure not only lowers the risk of the customer turning away, but can also build brand loyalty, he added.

Thompson encouraged F&B owners to consider what the right solution is for their business model. “In restaurants, consumers may be fine without a straw. But for novelty drink stalls [such as bubble tea chains or smoothie shops], consumers still want straws but are ok with alternatives, whether bamboo or metal,” he elaborated.

Durable and versatile, plastic has been a popular choice of material for everyday products including clothing and disposable tableware. But littering and improper waste disposal have led to pollution in the water, from oceans to drinking water, and hurt marine life and seabird populations.

Without changing the way societies use plastic, there could be 250 million tonnes of plastic debris in the ocean by 2025, almost double the volume of 2013. Critically, Asia is home to the world’s largest plastic polluters: China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Asked why that was, Thompson said Asia is seeing a mix of factors contributing to the problem. Rapid urbanisation results in increased waste generation, waste collection infrastructure remains weak, while the natural geography of the region such as archipelagoes means that there are more access points to the ocean, resulting in more litter. 

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