Warning as alternative biodegradable straws may be unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans

In an attempt to find alternatives to plastic straws, some companies are choosing to use straws made out of discarded shells.

Many pubs have stopped using plastic straws. Picture: Pixabay
Many pubs have stopped using plastic straws. Picture: Pixabay

This comes following the news nearly half of people in the south east have stopped using plastic cups and straws to be more eco-friendly, according to research commissioned by car technology firm Lightfoot.

In an article posted on their website in 2018, Marston's Pubs, which has 13 pubs in Sussex including Haywards Heath, Shoreham-by-Sea, Hastings and Pevensey, announced they were looking for biodegradable alternatives to plastic that "don’t harm the environment, meet our customers’ needs and are cost-effective", and that they were going to make straws from chitosan, derived from discarded seashells.

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A spokesman for Marston's Pubs said: “As a company, we are dedicated to the elimination of single use plastic in our pubs. Our biodegradable straws are made from a material called ‘Chitosan’ which is derived from discarded seashells and is made from non-edible food.

“This is a naturally occurring material from marine waste and means the straws can degrade in a matter of months rather than hundreds of years, which was our objective. Since the straw’s introduction in October 2018, we have reduced plastic usage by around 11 million straws per year.

“There is no evidence that chitosan would cause any reaction for someone with a seafood allergy. However, we do feel it is our duty of care to be transparent and let our customers who are vegan, vegetarian or do have an allergy know what the straws are made from before use, so an informed decision can be made on their behalf.

“If a customer does want an alternative straw, we also have paper straws available for our pubs to order.”

However, this development has caused concern for some vegetarians and vegans.

Sophie Jones, 20, from Brighton, said: "How would they source the straws? For me it all depends on how sustainable and ethical the process would be.

"One of the reasons why we don't like plastic straws is because they are killing sea life - seems like they're just cutting out the middle man if they're killing sea life to make the straws themselves.

"If I felt that the straws were unsustainable or unethical, I would absolutely avoid using them."

In a Facebook post by Watson Training Services, who provide First Aid and Health & Safety courses, on Saturday (July 13), it said: “Businesses should be warning customers that their new straws may contain discarded sea shells, known as chitosan. Therefore they are NOT suitable for vegans or vegetarians.”

Although the chitin used in chitosan products is sourced from the crushed shells of aquatic creatures, and therefore considered to be a waste product of the fishing industry, there is still a chance that animals could have been harmed in the process.

Criticism has come from people on social media, saying if chitosan products increased in demand they could see shell farming needing to be done to ensure a continuous supply, rather than relying on finding the shells on the seashore by chance, making it no different to other animal farming.

We approached other similar food and drink companies to find out what their straw policy is.

Hall & Woodhouse Brewery, which has pubs in Horsham, Arundel and Crawley has said it has no plans to change from paper straws, nor do Harvey's Brewery.

At The Lounges, which has lounges in Littlehampton, Brighton & Hove, and Lewes, and Bird and Blend Tea, a Sussex-based company, the straws used are made from cornstarch and will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Greene King, which has 34 pubs in Sussex including Crawley, Goring-by-Sea and Worthing, use PLA straws, which are made from renewable sources such as sugarcane or corn starch. They have pubs in Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath, and Bognor Regis.

Eddie Gershon, a publicist for Wetherspoons, said: "Wetherspoons stopped using plastic straws in its almost 900 pubs from January 2018. Previously the company was using 70 million plastic straws a year.

"The pubs now offer paper biodegradable straws."