Living the plastic life: Experts say straw usage in Singapore 'excessive'

Updated: Nov 10, 2018

While there are no official figures, one eatery finished 10,000 plastic straws in two months before switching to metal alternatives for dine-in customers.

Photo of a drink with a straw

SINGAPORE: A lunchtime visit to any hawker centre makes it apparent - people here love plastic straws. On tables are straws in cups with lids, poked into plastic film-sealed cups, and even in mineral water bottles.

In fact, if you are having a cold drink in a coffee shop, cafe or food court while reading this, you are probably sipping it through a straw. It is hard to imagine Singapore without single-use straws, since they are so entrenched in the city's dining scene, but that is what some authorities around the world are moving towards.

Internationally, anti-plastic straw sentiment has been picking up, with Scotland planning to ban them by end-2019, and lawmakers in some American states passing orders that limit or prohibit restaurants from using them.

Nearer to Singapore, Taiwan, which can be considered the world's bubble tea capital, will be banning single-use plastics, including straws, by 2030.

Environmental experts said that straws are a good starting point in encouraging the reduction of plastic use, but some businesses who spoke to Channel NewsAsia felt otherwise.

Photo of a person having a drink with a straw in a restaurant in Singapore


In fact, Mr Wiltian Ang, owner of The Matcha Project, believes that people are more likely to get comfortable cutting back on other plastics first.

"Once consumers are fully comfortable with bringing their own cups and bags, they might just be keen to bring their own straws or not using straws at all."

To encourage them, he gives a S$0.50 discount to those who bring their own reusable cups. He said that it would be difficult to stop providing straws freely at his shop, given that his cafe only sells takeaway drinks.

When people drink on the go, a straw is best to avoid spillage, he said. He added that the straw doubles up as a stirrer.

"Imagine buying an iced takeaway beverage without a straw. With the ice melting, the drink will be diluted and sediment will settle.

Mr Ang, who sold 700 iced drinks in January, adding that the low price of straws also decreases the incentive to minimise their use.

Barista Chris Chew echoed Mr Ang's sentiments. She said that because The Hangar Coffee Express, where she works, does not provide a stirrer, those who add sugar syrup to their drinks use the straw as one.

"If we don't provide it, and let people request for it, I wouldn't have time because I'm here alone, I wouldn't be able to entertain the requests."