Single-Use Straws Suck
Transitioning to Reusables 101
I’ve never seen my dad use a straw in my entire life. In fact, I have childhood memories of us using the drive-through at fast food restaurants and him saying, “No straw please,” to the employee. I’m not sure why he didn’t use them, but regardless of the reason, I can’t help but think about how many straws he’s turned down in his lifetime. And if you’ve been paying attention to environmental news lately, you may have noticed single-use plastic straws are the new hot topic. While statistics on how many single-use plastic straws are used daily are unverified, it’s not hard to get a rough idea—just think back to how many you’ve used yourself at restaurants, fast food joints, coffee shops, bars, and parties over the last year. Then think about all the other people drinking those beverages around the planet, and how long they’re actually using the straw for. It could be anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes based on how thirsty you are! So why are single-use plastic straws the low-hanging fruit of the environmental world? It’s because, unless you require one for medical reasons, they are generally unnecessary. If you just enjoy slurping, want to keep your lipstick neat, have sensitive teeth, or are concerned about keeping oceans free of plastic waste, here are reusable options that are a lot more planet-friendly.
Stainless steel straws are what I use and I feel pretty comfortable recommending them to others. They are durable, easy to clean, and very sleek looking. If you like your drinks to stay ice-cold, they keep the drink cooler in your glass all the way to your lips. I received a set of six as a gift from my mom—they cost about $7 and will last a lifetime. I keep one in my purse, one at my desk at work, a few at home, and one in my car. This sets me up for a SUCK-sessful beverage experience while protecting the environment at the same time. Stainless steel straws (say that three times fast!) come in different shapes, sizes, and colors to fit your lifestyle—bent, straight, smoothie/boba, rainbow—whatever your environmental heart desires, there’s a straw for you!
I do not personally use glass straws because I’m a klutz and would undoubtedly break one, but some people really enjoy them because you can see right through them, which eliminates any doubt about cleanliness. They can also be customized -- think blown glass, but in straw form. If you choose to use a glass straw, I recommend also making or purchasing a case to protect it from getting shattered. While glass straws are made to be strong, they are still fragile. Additionally, cases and bags are a good accessory for any straw to prevent them from getting dirty.
I do have personal experience with silicone straws, but they wouldn’t be my go-to choice. They are excellent for children because they are soft and flexible. But, in my experience they can be more difficult to clean and also they tend to get sticky. I often carried one in my purse and unfortunately it was a lint magnet! A small metal or plastic case may eliminate the lint issue. Silicone is also a better option than plastic because it’s less likely to leach chemicals into your food or drinks.
Probably the oldest type of straw, bamboo is also the most renewable and natural. I don’t have personal experience using one, but they are a fun, all-natural way to enjoy your beverage. However, they do not last forever since they are essentially an organic material, but the good news is they are biodegradable unless they are finished and chemically treated for longevity.
While I recommend using any of the aforementioned options over a single-use plastic straw, reusable plastic is also an option. It’s still plastic, so there is the possibility it will end up lasting hundreds of years if eventually discarded in a landfill. It’s not the ideal choice, but it is reusable and is probably a good option for children instead of fragile glass or potentially teeth-chipping stainless steel.
I mentioned accessories like cases and pouches to keep your straws safe and sanitary. You may also consider purchasing a straw brush, which basically looks like a pipe cleaner from your elementary school arts and crafts project. Often straws come with one and it’s the best way to keep your straw clean. Finally, for those who worry about chipping their teeth on the ridged stainless steel option, there are soft silicone tips available.
Now that you know your options, I will leave you with two more pieces of advice about straw use in public. When at a bar or restaurant (or anywhere that serves straws) politely ask that they leave the straw out of your order. More and more cities are banning straws unless requested, but for those that haven’t, you can make your voice heard by politely declining. And finally, if I am accidentally given a single-use straw, I use it. There’s no use in picking it out, throwing it away, and replacing it with my own reusable one.
I could go on for hours about straws, but if you are interested in learning more about the effects of single-use straws on your own time, here are some related resources.
A brief history of how plastic straws took over the world —National Geographic
California’s new plastic straw law takes effect in 2019. Here’s what’s happening. —San Diego Union Tribune