By Angelina Dass
SINGAPORE — Koufu outlets will soon join the ranks of eateries that say no to plastic straws, starting with its school-based outlets.
From 2 December, vendors will stop giving out straws at Republic Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Nanyang Polytechnic and Singapore Polytechnic, before the initiative is rolled out to 30 more outlets across the island in the first quarter of next year, Koufu Group’s Chief Operations Officer Choo Teck Chuan told Yahoo News Singapore.
All Koufu outlets will also switch to biodegradable cup sleeves and carriers by next year. Plastic cups will be replaced by biodegradable paper cups with plastic lids that make drinking without straws easier, an initiative already in place at its Sengkang General and Community Hospital outlet, said Choo.
The food court and coffeeshop operator was among the first to ditch straws, removing them from its Singapore Management University (SMU) outlet in March 2018. Its food court at ITE College Central (ITE) stopped giving out straws in April this year.
“It is imperative that businesses drive initiatives to support the movement and encourage individuals to do their bit for the environment,” said Choo.
As more establishments jump onto the no-straw bandwagon, customers are “no longer fazed” by not receiving straws, he added.
The bid to remove single-use plastics has picked up pace across the island this year. Last week, fast-food chain KFC said it would remove plastic cups at all of its 85 outlets and would only provide plastic caps for takeaway drinks. It is also switching to paper packaging for 13 dine-in menu items at two outlets from December.
Meanwhile, a spokesman from McDonald’s told Yahoo that it is currently reviewing feedback from a month-long trial in September at 10 of its outlets, where plastic straws were removed and plastic bags, cutlery, saucers and the McFlurry cup were replaced with more sustainable alternatives. No decision has yet been made on wider implementation.
Growing support from consumers
Separately, as of November, close to 300 food and beverage outlets have fully removed straws from their premises or provided them only upon request as part of PACT (Plastic ACTion), a World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature initiative. The latest of these are Spa Esprit Group, which runs Tiong Bahru Bakery and Common Man Coffee, Well Dressed Salad Bar & Cafe, and Nassim Hill Bakery Bistro Bar.
WWF spokesperson Janissa Ng said consumer support was key to the growing momentum in Singapore to reduce single-use plastics. In driving the cultural shift required for even more impact, Singapore could learn from Hong Kong’s experience with plastic bags, she said.
“When Hong Kong first levied a tax for plastic bags in 2009, the public had to make adjustments unless they chose to pay HK$0.50 each time they got a plastic bag from retailers… People in Hong Kong are now accustomed to the absence of disposable plastic bags… Businesses in Singapore, too, can drive a culture shift as long as we stop pushing the responsibility between individuals, businesses and the government.”
According to the World Economic Forum, plastic production around the world reached 311 million tonnes in 2014, a figure that is expected to triple by 2050. Some of these plastics end up finding their way into oceans, threatening marine wildlife and ecosystems. WWF estimates that up to 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans each year.
Where the plastic straw revolution struggles is in the popular bubble tea arena, where the nature of the beverage – which contains starch-based “pearls” – makes a straw necessary.
Koufu, which operates 23 R&B Tea outlets, said that cost was a major concern for alternatives that would work as well with bubble tea.
“The high cost of biodegradable products is also a challenge to overcome without passing the cost on to consumers,” said Choo.