Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market will remove plastic straws from stores in the US, the UK, and Canada by July, the company said today. Whole Foods is also switching to smaller plastic bags in its produce department and replacing hard plastic casing on rotisserie chickens with bags that use roughly 70% less plastic. The company estimates that these changes will add up to using about 800,000 fewer pounds of plastic per year.
Plastics, and in particular plastic straws, have come under increased scrutiny for polluting oceans, clogging landfills, and worsening greenhouse-gas emissions. Starbucks said in July 2018 it would phase out plastic straws by 2020. The EU has agreed to ban plastic straws, cutlery, cups, drink stirrers, and balloon sticks by 2021. At Whole Foods, plastic straws will remain available on request to diners with disabilities.
Whole Foods’ move is sure to play well with its well-to-do, environmentally conscious shopper base. The plastic straw has overtaken the plastic bag as a symbol of modern consumerism at its most environmentally unfriendly. “We recognize that single-use plastics are a concern for many of our customers, team members, and suppliers,” Whole Foods president and chief merchandising officer said in a statement. “We will continue to look for additional opportunities to further reduce plastic across our stores.” (The single-use plastics industry, for its part, isn’t going down without a fight.)
You know who isn’t backing away from single-use plastics, though? Amazon. Plastic straws sell by the hundreds and thousands on Amazon.com. They come in every shape, style, and size: flexible, clear, brightly colored, BPA-free, glitter sparkle, “wow plastic neon,” “striped for boba.” The “Amazon’s Choice” selection is 250 clear, disposable drinking straws from Rupert & Jeoffrey’s Trading Co., for $5.99. (You can also buy 500 or 1,000 at a time, and pick from five other colors.)
We’ve contacted Amazon and are awaiting comment. A Whole Foods representative said in an email that the company doesn’t currently sell plastic straws in its stores.
Of course, plastic straws may be one of the smallest environmental concerns when it comes to Amazon. The on-demand-everything culture of Amazon Prime and free one-day shipping (!) has snarled city streets and led to huge increases in packaging. Cloud computing, meanwhile, isn’t exactly carbon neutral, and Amazon Web Services is arguably the company’s most important revenue generator.
All of which is to say: Whole Foods banning straws is a nice gesture. Its parent company is a much bigger fish in the plastics-infested sea.