Explanation of the Observation
The use of plastic materials has become a common habit of people across the world, making it a demanded product in multiple spheres. From an economic point of view, plastic is a significantly beneficial material that possesses such qualities as lightness in weight and durability. Importantly, on a global production scale, the growing demand for plastic goods has stimulated its production by more than eight percent per year (Romero Mosquera, 2019).
The number of companies manufacturing plastic goods has grown, and its use spheres have expanded over the years. However, one negative feature of this popular material is that “plastics are nonbiodegradable, they keep breaking down into smaller parts but never disappear completely,” which means that all “plastic ever made still exists” (Romero Mosquera, 2019, p. 5). This fact has triggered an array of environmental concerns. It has been observed that of all types of plastic goods, drinking straws are exposed to the most severe banning policy in many companies.
This fact might be explained by stipulating that plastic straws are omnipresent in people’s everyday life. Moreover, the world-wide tendency of removing them from companies is influenced by their single-use characteristics (“Plastic straws: Which companies are banning them?,” 2019). Also, they are non-recyclable, which is why their production is unsustainable (Rice, 2019).
Therefore, their removal is expected to make a significant improvement to the environment. Ultimately, the environmentalists anticipate that the movement against drinking straws will be the beginning of a much bigger anti-plastic campaign (“Plastic straws: Which companies are banning them?,” 2019; Romero Mosquera, 2019). However, it is important to analyze how this process will affect people’s everyday life economically and if it is worth implementing.
Analysis from the Economic Perspective
Some big companies are removing plastic straws from their operations, changing the service delivery patterns, and inducing customer adjustment to the changes. Coffee shops, pizzerias, bars, supermarkets, as well as such company chains as Marriott International, Starbucks, and others have already started minimizing and banning the use of plastic drinking straws (Kestenbaum, 2018; “Plastic straws: Which companies are banning them?,” 2019).
However, the majority of such banning campaigns, including the ones in Starbucks, McDonald’s, Disney, and Subway, started with customers’ petitions signed by thousands of people. This fact allows for assuming that the roots of banning are not in the economic strategies of the businesses but their conforming response to the general public’s request.
Cost and Benefit Analysis
Although it is difficult to calculate the actual financial costs induced by plastic banning, one might elaborate on the costs and benefits that such campaigns bring. It is important to note that companies that produce plastic are exposed to banning, closing, and financial losses. Their production rates are decreasing; thus, they pay a private cost for banning the straws. At the same time, there are significant benefits associated with the removal of straws from companies. For example, the businesses that cultivate corporate social responsibility and value their reputation in the eyes of the public, favorably react to their customers’ demand to refuse from plastic materials and gain positive recognition (Kestenbaum, 2018).
The global environment-friendly trends in daily habits produce greater demand for goods and services available from anti-plastic businesses. The number of customers in such companies grows, and their revenues increase. Therefore, they obtain significant benefits as a result of their anti-plastic straws policy.
Also, a benefit that is impossible to overestimate is a cleaner environment and better health outcomes for all the population of the world. On the other hand, the party that might benefit from plastic straws removal includes the manufacturers of straws out of alternative and environment-friendly materials. Indeed, as Rice (2019) states, straws made of glass, metal, or paper might be an effective substitution of plastic ones.
Therefore, the producers of these durable and recyclable straws would obtain substantial benefits by acquiring new customers and higher demand for their products. However, the production of metal or glass straws is more resource-demanding, cost- and time-consuming in comparison to plastic ones. It implies that when transitioning to more sustainable production of drinking straws, companies will have to pay additional financial costs associated with design, manufacturing process, and resource utilization.
Externality and Unintended Consequences Approach
When using a plastic straw, any consumer pays a private cost. According to Cowen and Tabarrok (2018), the private cost is “a cost paid by the consumer or the producer (p. 183). However, the use of plastic straws has its external costs. For example, under the circumstances when only several companies are refusing to use plastic straws, and many still continue using them, all the humans and animals on the planet pay an external cost. An external cost is a cost that is “paid by people other than consumers or producers trading in the market” (Cowen & Tabarrok, 2018, p. 183). The pollution the plastic waste causes leads to health issues that diminish the safety of people and animals. Therefore, even people who refuse to use plastic materials pay an external cost for plastic straws.
The process of the banning of plastic straws also has its external costs and benefits that require analyzing. The external benefits include the favorable outcomes of the elimination of a substantial part of plastic from everyday use for the natural environment. Cleaner oceans and land will provide advantages for people and animals. The cleaner the environment, the more opportunities for advancing the green economy in the world will be, which will provide beneficial outcomes for all humanity.
As for the external costs, it might be speculated that people who are socially inactive in terms of environmental movements might experience inconveniences when being deprived of the things that make their life easier. However, it is evident that the external benefits prevail over costs.
When mitigating the harmful effect of plastics on the environment, companies that remove plastic straws from their operations will need to invent new ways to facilitate beverage consumption. Indeed, often, straws are used to drink hot beverages; without them, people will be exposed to possible burns or spills. Thus, the costs will be forwarded to consumers. In response to such shortcomings of complete removal of drinking straws, two measures are possible. Firstly, the utilization of special cup lids for hot drinks might apply (Rice, 2019). Secondly, alternative materials, such as paper, glass, and metal, might be used for straws production. However, both options require additional costs from manufacturers for inventing and producing these items. Consequently, these adjustments might affect the prices and require consumers to pay more.
Moreover, the use of alternative material straws will lead to numerous unintended consequences. For example, paper straws are convenient, light, and recyclable, but they leave an unpleasant taste to a beverage. Thus, consumers are expected to sacrifice their taste to adjust to the new requirements. Metal and glass straws are more durable and environment-friendly; however, they are also associated with several disadvantages in terms of their everyday use. As Rice (2019) states, to suffice the multiple uses of such straws, people will be expected to carry these straws with them, which is inconvenient. Also, as compared to plastic straws, which are flexible and can be bent, glass, and metal ones do not possess such characteristics and are less beneficial for the users.
Also, the usage of these straws multiple times implies a more often cleaning of them, which induces increased water waste. Finally, glass straws are fragile; when broken, they are dangerous due to the potential cuts (Rice, 2019). Thus, the substitution of plastic straws with metal or glass ones will transfer the responsibilities for costs onto consumers.
Another aspect of unintentional consequences is the impact of plastic removal on vulnerable populations. People with health issues that have problems swallowing are in need of straws, and the plastic ones are cheap and comfortable to use. Indeed, people with disabilities constitute a demographic that is in particular need for a plastic straw “because it is flexible, able to bend, and is safe to use” (Rice, 2019, p. 10). If these people lose access to straws, they will be at risk of dehydration (“Plastic straws: Which companies are banning them?,” 2019). In such a manner, if plastic straws are completely banned, the burden will be placed on people with disabilities.
To summarize the discussion, one might emphasize that the banning of plastic straws by some big companies across the world is driven by both environmental and economic considerations. On the one hand, the removal of plastic straws from companies will minimize plastic waste and stimulate the following steps in eliminating all plastic goods from everyday use.
On the other hand, the companies that actively endorse the policy of banning plastic straws gain a better reputation in their customers and expand their corporate social responsibility. Also, the everyday life of millions of people will change since they will need to adjust their daily habits. Consequently, high costs will be projected on consumers and producers, but environmental benefits will prevail.
- Cowen, T., & Tabarrok, A. (2018). Modern principles of economics (4th ed.). Macmillan International Higher Education.
- Kestenbaum, R. (2018). Is banning plastic straws a good strategy for companies?. Forbes. Web.
- Plastic straws: Which companies are banning them?. (2019). BBC News. Web.
- Rice, L. (2019). The plastic straw movement: How green corporate social responsibility impacts specific Ohio restaurants [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Kent State University.
- Romero Mosquera, M. (2019). Banning plastic straws: The beginning of the war against plastics. Environmental and Earth Law Journal, 9(1), 5-31.