On Monday night, CNN hosted five hours of back-to-back (to-back-to-back-to-back) town halls with five different Democratic presidential candidates, starting with Amy Klobuchar and finishing with Pete Buttigieg. A rotating cast of earnest college students asked each of them policy questions, about health insurance and immigration and whether the Boston Marathon bomber should be allowed to vote. But honestly, what each White House hopeful should’ve volunteered within seconds of setting foot on the carpeted stage was how they feel about plastic straws.
In the past year-plus, there has been a seemingly unending list of very serious controversies about straws. We’ve had numerous citywide straw bans; one statewide ban on issuing a straw ban; and even a black market for reusable straws. And the straw-troversy (still workshopping that) isn’t limited to These United States. As of this writing, more than 38,000 people have signed an online petition on 38 Degrees asking McDonald’s UK to reinstate their recently banned plastic straws, because customers aren’t fans of their paper replacements.
“Bring back McDonald’s Straws,” no-nonsense petition creator Martin Reed wrote. “So I can drink my milkshake proper.” (After Brexit, your countrymen might be without fresh food and crucial medicine, but sure, let’s focus on straws for now.)
Last summer, McDonald’s announced that it would swap plastic straws for paper ones in all 1,391 of its restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland, a rollout that began several months later. “Reflecting the broader public debate, our customers told us they wanted to see a move on straws but to do so without compromising their overall experience when visiting our restaurants,” Paul Pomroy, the CEO of McDonald’s UK and Ireland, said at the time. “Over the past few months we’ve been working closely with supplier partners to find a solution that works both for our customers, and that the supply is there given the size of our business.”
According to The Guardian, McDonald’s uses an estimated 1.8 million straws every day in its restaurants in the United Kingdom, so that’s a lot of plastic that won’t find its way into sea turtles’ noses or whatever—but whether the paper versions “compromise [the customers’] overall experience” seems to be up for debate.
“They get soggy and give a cardboard taste to your drink,” one petition signer wrote. “They make me teeth feel funny,” another added. And a disappointed, not-at-all hyperbolic Twitter user wrote, “McDonald’s paper straws have literally ruined my life.”
Others are criticizing the critics, telling them that a bit of paper in their mouths is a small price to pay for protecting the environment (or at least not actively making it any shittier). “If you’re one of the 30k people who have signed the petition for @McDonalds to bring back plastic straws because it ‘ruins your drink,’ your priorities need a serious looking at,” a Leeds man named Will tweeted. “Your plastic straw aids in ruining the planet, so suck it up and use a goddamn paper straw.”
Sadly for Martin and other disappointed McCustomers, even 38 Degrees, the website that hosts the petition, isn’t on their side; on the “Bring back McDonald’s straws” page, there’s a link to a separate petition asking the UK’s biggest movie theater chains to ditch their own plastic straws. “This petition has been started by a member of the public and not 38 Degrees,” its disclaimer reads. “Single use ‘throw away’ plastic items like straws, cups and bottles have a huge impact on our environment, they clog up our oceans and polluting our countryside.”
MUNCHIES reached out to McDonald’s for comment, and received this written statement from a spokesperson: “Our suppliers have made us paper straws that last at least 30 minutes in most, if not all liquids. They were introduced following customer feedback, and we are pleased to be doing the right thing in removing plastic from our restaurants and taking significant steps to reduce our environmental impact.”
Maybe that’s a polite way of telling Martin that he’s just been over-savoring his milkshake. Or maybe it’s just corporate way of saying that paper straws aren’t going anywhere, except through the lid of whatever soft drink you just ordered.
Regardless, I’d still like to know where the presidential candidates stand on this one.