Beijing and Hong Kong lead the way in reducing the use of environmentally damaging straws.

You might not think much about the plastic straw in your mouth when you take a sip from your drink cup on your way to the cinema or at lunch, but these small pieces of plastic can have a large effect on the natural environment.

Restaurants in two Chinese cities – Beijing and Hong Kong – are no longer providing plastic straws.

Amid a nationwide call to reduce plastic product usage to protect the environment, Hong Kong's Café de Coral, a fast food restaurant chain serving both Chinese and Western foods at budget prices, has started to encourage its customers to bring their own tableware in lieu of plastic straws. The new policy took effect on January 1in 164 locations.

Fairwood, another popular restaurant in Hong Kong, stopped providing plastic straws in November: "Most customers understand why and some even praise us being environmentally friendly," said Li Yuxia, a cashier at Fairwood.

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In Beijing, close to a dozen McDonald's restaurants have stopped providing plastic straws since last November. The move is popular with many people but not everyone is happy.

"Customers want to drink with straws and eat noodles with eating utensils. If these things aren't provided, it'll cause dissatisfaction among some customers," said Yu Xuerong, executive president of the Catering Industry Association of Jiangsu province.

Huang Wei, an associate professor at the School of Energy and Environment at Southeast University, explained that straws are mainly made of polypropylene, which has huge resistance to chemicals – meaning it takes years for plastic straws to degrade.

The move by the two Chinese cities comes amid the nation's call to reduce the usage of plastic products, including plastic bags.

Plastic products were introduced into the everyday life of Chinese people amid the reform and opening-up, which brought with it an economic boom. Traditional shopping baskets and bags were then gradually replaced by plastic bags, cheaper and more convenient for both sellers and customers.

The number of plastic bags alone skyrocketed to 3 billion in 2017, including 1 billion plastic bags used for grocery shopping, New Weekly magazine reported. The same year, China issued the nation's first-ever restriction on plastic bag usage, banning sales and production of plastic bags thinner than 0.025mm and forbidding all retailers from offering free plastic bags.

As citizens grew increasingly aware of environmental protection, more not only started avoiding plastic bags but also reduced usage of other plastic products, especially plastic tableware.

Although the promotion of degradable tableware is still steadily advancing, the current action of restricting straws has not been carried out in most places, Yu noted.

There is no mass production of materials that can completely replace plastic straws, as it is hard to make something that is high quality and cheap with the same durability.

Content sourced from the People's Daily Online here