OKEMOS, Mich. - Starbucks customers will soon sip their iced coffees without the aid of a plastic straw.
And they'll have an Okemos-raised Michigan State University graduate to thank for that.
Emily Alexander, a 2011 MSU graduate, developed the Seattle-based coffee company's answer to the question of how to get rid of plastic straws. This as businesses large and small look to reduce plastic waste and minimize the environmental damage wrought by it.
Her father, Bruce Alexander, suspected she might be involved when he saw a report about the new lid on T.V.
"She has to keep everything quiet when they are developing a new packaging product," her mother, Mary Jo Hardy, said.
The first time Alexander's parents learned of their daughter's work was when she sent them a press release from the company.
The lid Alexander designed will soon rest atop most cold drinks from Starbucks.
Starbucks' new strawless lid. (Photo: Starbucks)
Emily Alexander was always interested in building things, Hardy recalled. She started with Legos as a child and was a member of Okemo's robotics team during her senior year.
"I loved growing up in Okemos, and looking back I realize how many opportunities I was afforded through the support of my parents and growing up in a community so close to a large university," Alexander wrote in an email.
At MSU, Alexander started out as an engineering student but found it wasn't exactly what she was looking for, Hardy recalled. She sought out an adviser, who recommended she look at the packaging program.
"It was right up her alley," Hardy said.
Starbucks is rolling out the new strawless lid as it works toward eliminating plastic straws from more than 28,000 of its stores by 2020, it announced earlier this month.
The move has prompted concern for its impact on customers with disabilities. The company has said it's investing in more sustainable straws and will make them available upon request.
Others have noted that the lid itself is also made of plastic, though Starbucks contends it is easily recyclable.
Susan Selke, an MSU professor and director of the School of Packaging, takes issue with the total opposition to plastic goods.
"The alternatives to plastics very often, not always, but very often, have a greater environmental impact than plastics do," she said. "That doesn’t mean plastics are perfect.
"We need to do much better at managing plastic waste in a responsible way," she said, noting the importance of recycling to ensure those goods don't cause environmental harm.
Selke praised the strawless lid as innovative.
"It's really great that it's being picked up and implemented on a wide scale," she said.
Contact RJ Wolcott at (517) 377-1026 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wolcottr.