Plastic straws suck!, and for the green enthusiast the term “suck” used here is defined as objectionable. One of the newer environmental campaigns is an anti-plastic straw initiative, where restaurants and bars/pubs are encouraged to reduce the number of plastic straws used in their establishments, or replace plastic straws with straws made of a biodegradable material. There has been a surprising amount of success with such campaigns so far. For example, the large restaurant chain Earl’s has introduced the use of paper straws in some locations! And the small town of Tofino, on Canada’s West Coast, is 73% plastic straw free after the success of the Surfrider Foundation’s Pacific Rim chapter, having convinced 22/30 local restaurants to ditch the plastic straw (here’s a Huffington Post link Tofino is going plastic straw free).
Plastic straws happen to be a very common form of litter found floating in water bodies, washed up on beaches and dropped on roadways, trails, bus stops, etc.. Now that you are aware of plastic straws after reading this post, you will notice just how many straws are served and worse, how many are disposed of. The turning point for me was the viral youtube video of a straw being painfully pulled from a turtle’s nose. In this video, marine researchers extract the straw in order to open the nasal passage again, during which the turtle is clearly in pain. It is not the actions of the researchers that is causing the hurt, rather it is the production, distribution, use and improper disposal of that plastic straw.
So, what can the individual do?
When you are out and about:
- Refuse that plastic straw – don’t forget to tell your server before you order drinks, and if you’re really quick before water is brought to your table.
- You don’t have to skip the frappuccino if you have a frappuccino tumbler with reusable straw!
- Starbucks actually sells a great series of cold drink travel tumblers with straws, both reusable plastic and metal.
- Place a straw in your fork and spoon carrier, add it to your green habits arsenal packed in your backpack or purse.
- If you carry your own straw you need not worry when eating on the go
Home can be so much more convenient when exercising green habits! The average person does not use straws when at home. However, sometimes you do need a straw. Luckily there are a number of options, here are a few things to consider when choosing which plastic straw alternative you wish to adopt.
- Pros: bamboo is a very rich resource as it is very light yet durable, naturally hollow (while we’re on the topic of straws), exceptionally strong and bamboo seemingly has some antimicrobial properties. As well, because bamboo is a “warm” material there is no discomfort on the teeth when using the straw. As well, they are the cheapest of the reusable straws.
- Cons: without having experienced using a bamboo straw I can only assume that prolonged use, exposure to liquids and sugars, will likely lead to degradation of the bamboo. As a “soft” material bamboo may absorb flavours or odours but, who drinks garlic juice anyway?!
- So, after some number of uses (they include a cleaning brush with them so this number must be decent) the bamboo straw will start to breakdown. BUT this doesn’t really matter as they can be composted.
- and the packaging is made of paper
- Companies: The most prominent bamboo straw producer is Bambu
- Pros: paper is fairly abundant, “easily” recycled and a renewable resource. Paper is an easy material to work with and for these reasons cost is low, it is a “warm” material and will not send a shiver up the spine of the individual with sensitive teeth. As well, paper straw producers have really had fun making straws of many different colours and designs. Paper straws are definitely the most “fun” (I’m not going to touch on ink, colouring and potential chemicals used in making these straws so pretty).
- Cons: paper quickly becomes saturated when in liquid, these straws become soggy, however, not as quickly as you would think.
- The paper straw is the best option for restaurants, and other food venues/vendors, picnics, barbqs and other events serving larger numbers of people. The paper straw allows guests to enjoy their drinks, and in keeping with health and safety, are disposable (that is, compostable) at minimal cost.
- A few companies: Aardvark Straws, Greenmunch (which actually has a number of eco-friendly and cute products)
- Given the name I can’t help but wonder if straw was in fact the original straw.
- Pros: Again, a “warm” biodegradable/compostable material. Straw is somewhere in the middle between bamboo and paper in durability. Another renewable resource, straw is even better as it is a by-product of the harvest of grains.
- Cons: Straw does not have antimicrobial properties, and like paper, would be a one-use item. They also have a relatively small diameter.
- Companies to watch for: Harvest Straws
- Pros: glass is relatively inexpensive, easy to maintain, transparent for easy cleaning and will not degrade with use and time. Companies are making them in different colours, different lengths, bent or straight, there is a lot of selection and they are readily available. As well, they will not absorb flavours or odours.
- Cons: I think the biggest downfall of the glass straw, at least in my opinion is the risk of breaking. As a minor con, I only mention because I have heard people complain, glass can feel cold on the teeth. As well, they are the heaviest of reusable straws available.
- Companies: Simple Straws is probably one of the most well-known glass straw companies with plenty of options!
- I have metal straws, namely because they were the first reusable straw I encountered, and because they are sold with some styles of Starbucks cold drink travel tumblers. I like them, they are durable and easy to maintain.
- Pros: unlike glass, metal straws are not breakable. They are comparable in price to both glass and bamboo straws, are light, easy to clean, and did I mention they are durable? There is some selection in terms of length and shape as well, and typically they fit more easily into a lid with a straw hole. If made of stainless steel bacteria will have a hard time growing and they won’t absorb flavours or odours.
- Cons: in comparison to glass, they are not transparent (minor) making it more challenging to see any grime build up. In comparison to bamboo, they may feel cold on your teeth (personal).
- Companies: Maine Drinking Straw Company, Onyx
- Pros: plastic has the advantage of being light, cheap, less likely to break, “warm” on the teeth and easy enough to maintain.
- Cons: well, it is still plastic, isn’t it?
- Companies: Greenmunch (again, these guys have some great biodegradable options, especially if you are throwing a party or barbq!)
- Silicone is growing in popularity and application by the day. Recently, I discovered silicone reusable straws at my favourite market.
- Pros: comparable in price to other reusable materials, silicone has the advantage of being rubbery and unlikely to break. It is durable, food grade, “warm” on the teeth, in fact it is fairly resistant to temperature and easy to maintain. They also come in fun colours, solids or stripes.
- Cons: silicone isn’t biodegradable nor compostable, though it can be recycled sadly in few locations.
- Companies: GreenPaxx
Now, be sure to wash your reusable straws with hot soapy water and a straw brush after each use. This will ensure no grime and bacteria build up inside the straw, which will not only keep you healthy but, will prolong the life of your straw as well.
I can easily find the benefits of each material so, find the straw that suits you and celebrate another green victory 🙂
*Note: You may have noticed that I did not discuss the details about materials used and the resources required to make each of these types of straws. If interest dictates, I can write a larger, researched blog post discussing the broader environmental effects of each material.