In this series I am highlighting one small thing you can do in your life that will make a difference in our collective waste production and move us towards a plastic free world. Don’t forget to read back through why you should consider making the switch to cloth napkins, handkerchiefs, and anything other than plastic bottles.
Today, I am breaking the news: Plastic straw are out.
You may have heard.
And thank goodness for that, because Americans use about 500 million straws per day!*
*Though the oft-cited 500 million straws per day number might not be accurate, the point is the number is really high, and no matter what the number is, we can and should work towards lowering it.
According to Time.com:
“Some scientists estimate there are 7.5 million plastic straws polluting U.S. shorelines, and anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on shorelines around the world. And plastic straws are just a small percentage of the more than 8 million metric tons of plastic that end up in the ocean each year.”
So whether the number is 5 thousand or 5 million, we need it to become closer to zero.
Some may argue the fact that straws are plastic and recyclable. To which I ask: when is the last time you actually recycled a straw?
We are really bad at recycling straws.
They are small, and so ubiquitous as to be an afterthought.
And even if we tried to recycle them, the machinery we have is built for dealing with cans and bottles and laundry detergent jugs, it cannot sort things in the tiny size range of straws.
Here’s a quick primer to answer: “can I recycle this”.
Now, I want to be clear: this is not a political issue for me.
This is not a liberals versus conservatives thing.
I don’t give a good goddamn if you have a closet full of rifles or voted for Obama, twice.
All I’m saying is, maybe this is the wake-up call that consumers and beverage providers need. The humble straw can be a “gateway plastic” of sorts. Maybe this will get people thinking about all the other single use plastics in our lives.
Maybe we can start asking why.
And what can I do to stop it.
We go through our days on autopilot, just throwing things away.
Where is “away”?
Where do you really think your trash goes?
Because literally every piece of plastic anything, ever made, is still here, on this planet. It may have broken down into microplastics, some may have been melted and turned into some other plastic thing, but it is all still here. And we just keep piling it on.
There are people who, due to muscular, nerve, or other disorders, can only drink a beverage safely through a straw. And I don’t have all the answers.
What I’m hoping is that this inspires more of a cultural shift.
A change in perspective. A gentle jolt out of our complacent first world lives where we don’t know or care what is happening outside the boundaries of our social media feed.
Some ideas for alternatives to plastic straws:
Other straw materials
To choose the right alternative straw for you, you need to ask yourself a few questions.
What is your price point? How often do you use a straw? Hot or cold drinks? Thick or thin liquids? (i.e. milkshakes and smoothies vs iced coffee, water, and tea)
The good news is there is a plethora of options, with more becoming available all the time.
Paper Straws are made from… paper.
The good news is that means they are compostable at the end of their life span and can be returned to the earth. They do have their own pitfalls as well though.
o Can be printed with food safe vegetable inks
o Vintage appearance, vibrant and colourful
o Completely biodegradable & compostable
o Great for use with children
o Trees can be a renewable resource if harvested responsibly
o Will go soggy after a short period of time
o Not suited for thick smoothies and milkshakes
o Some may still be coated in a thin layer of plastic
Sugar cane or Corn starch:
PLA STRAWS – PLA, short for ‘Polylactic Acid’ is made from a renewable resources, such as corn starch & sugar cane.
o Has the appearance of plastic
o Completely Biodegradable & compostable
o Made from renewable sources
o Can make it flexible like bendy straws
o Easily transportable
o Can only be composted at commercial composting facility, not at home
o Looks like plastic, so consumers may mistake it for plastic
o Not yet cost effective to a large restaurant/supplier
Glass straws are of course made from glass. Most are decently thick such that you shouldn’t have to treat them too delicately, but they are still, well, made of glass.
o Very smooth, like sipping right from the glass
o Clear, you can see that it’s clean (hopefully)
o Doesn’t really conduct heat, so you can drink hot or cold drinks
o Easily breakable if dropped or banged against anything
o Slightly heavier than paper or PLA straws
Stainless steel straws are the most durable option. Made from stainless steel, they should last forever, and not rust.
o Lasts a LONG time, very cost effective
o Sleek and smooth like the glass kind
o May hurt if you hit yourself in the teeth with it
o Conducts heat well, so a hot drink might be a problem
o May occasionally get a metallic taste using it
Reusable sturdy plastic
When all else fails, a reusable plastic straw can at least be washed and drunk from many many times.
I’ll admit I have a handful of plastic straws that I bought on sale at Target several years ago. While they are plastic, they are also a sunk cost for me. They have already been manufactured, packaged, shipped, and bought.
They are a thicker, heavier plastic, and they are dishwasher safe. I use these straws to get myself to drink more water throughout the day, in my morning smoothies, iced coffees, and in many other ways, at home and out and about.
Since I wash them over and over, I’m certain these 5 or 6 straws have already been used dozens of times, and have several more years of life left in them.
Bring your own, duh
To go along with the points above about using your own straw that can be used over and over, it is also a good idea to bring one with you at all times if you are a frequent straw user.
There are legitimate arguments from some corners to keep at least the option of straws at restaurants, mainly for folks who, because of a disability, literally cannot drink without straws for one reason or another.
To that I say, why not have places that sell beverages be stocked with reusable straws that they can also sell? (See above)
Have it be a low enough price point that it is affordable, maybe $1.
Yes, everyone is human and if this is your situation you likely carry a straw regularly. But forget enough times and it will become very ingrained, and/or you will eventually have a straw in every car, bag, purse, and coat pocket.
Just drink from the damn glass
This is the simplest option of all: just don’t.
Like the opposite of Nike.
Just don’t use a straw.
Drink from the glass like humans have done for millennia.
Whether hot or cold, at home or on the go, you can always just drink from the vessel into which you put your liquid. And then of course either wash and reuse it, or properly recycle the container.
Want to figure out which straw you should use?
Take the Going Zero Waste quiz and find out!