It was inevitable that there would come a day I would have to finally address the Big Straw Debate of 2018. Mostly I've put it off until now because I KNOW it requires more research than lazily watching a NowThis video on a restaurant that's banned straws with subtitles.
Here's what we know (or at least what we think we know): Plastic straws bad. Paper straws good. No straws good.
Look, I'm not perfect and I never said I was. I'm just like the rest of you. I love my Starbucks and my plastic straw that I chew on until I have to throw it away. But it's time for me to change. I'm here to turn your straw world upside DOWN. Or at least provide a little more information on the environmental impact of different types of straws and cite a few solutions for the future.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you may have noticed a recent push to ban plastic straws. Starbucks announced their plan to go strawless by 2020 with plastic sippy cup lids instead, Seattle became the first major city to outlaw plastic straws completely, and even celebrities like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Tom Felton and Russell Crowe have pledged to #StopSucking to create a #StrawlessOcean.
Like with all plastic, straws don't decompose very easily, usually end up in the ocean getting eaten by marine life, and can't be recycled if they contain foodstuffs or oils. Straws are not really given to us as a choice either. They usually automatically come in our glasses at restaurants, bars and other food establishments.
The National Park Service says Americans waste about 500 million straws every day. And while straw waste only accounts for a very small fraction of our plastic footprint, it still contributes to our plastic footprint. I repeat, 8 million metric tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, straws account for a very small fraction of that, BUT that doesn't mean we should just carry on using straws if we do not require them in daily life.
Keep reading alllllll the way to the end of this post for info on why someone would need plastic straws in their daily life.
Some places like Colorado's Restaurant Association have implemented an "offer first" policy that requires patrons to ask if they want a straw to come with their drink. This reminds me of California's drought policy of having to ask for water in restaurants instead of it automatically being served to you. What I like about this policy is that it kind of forces you to become aware of your straw usage.
I know. I know. We definitely don't love them, but they're almost the best disposable straw situation right now, right? Well, no.
Tell me, what is the point of banning one single-use disposable straw just to replace it with another single-use disposable? Sure, they're paper but they still end up in a landfill! This is no environmental solution AT ALL.
Not only that, but I can't name a single person that genuinely prefers paper straws and their weird softness after sipping through it for more than 2 minutes. Let's just get rid of this bad bad suggestion altogether.
This paper straw company claims to have a durable enough formula to not break down in liquids. But honestly, fuck that. It's still being thrown away and sent to a landfill, and I would bet $100 it would not withstand my morning coffee or afternoon La Croix.
And now I am pleased to present several straw alternatives. Some are compostable (yay!), some are reusable (yay!) and some are super weird but I included them anyway (yay!).
1. The first is called LOLISTRAW, an edible, hypercompostable, marinedegradable alternative. It's made of a seaweed based material, which of course begs the question, does it taste good? Here's their list of flavors:
Embedded with sun energy, my god. According to their Indiegogo campagin, it feels like a plastic straw and lasts for up to a day, so automatically that is better than paper for me, but the whole pretentiousness of the flavors is really turning me off here.
2. Be Organic Glass Straws concern me slightly. I like to chew my straws and I can just imagine myself chewing with such intensity that the glass breaks in my mouth and I end up in the ER with glass mouth.
3. I feel almost the exact same way about Eco At Heart Stainless Steel Straws, though these are more popular and less risk than the glass ones. I can also see myself ramming one into the roof of my mouth while I'm driving and ending up in the ER with stainless steel mouth. These are probably a great option for camping though! And it comes with a brush to clean the inside which is so thoughtful!
4. Now this is wild. Bamboo! What a great idea. It's literally just bamboo and that's it. According to the website, these babies last up to ten years. And since bamboo is natural, it's completely sustainable. A win for plant-lovers everywhere.
5. This is my favorite option of them all. Harvest Straws are sustainable, low-carbon straws made from non-GMO grain. It's like pasta! The straws are all natural grain stalks, and that is literally it. The grain they are made from is drought tolerant and low in gluten, although I am unsure how someone with celiac's would react to using these.
Of course, there are people who do require the use of plastic straws in their daily life. People with disabilities need straws to eat and drink. Stainless steel straws (or even the scary glass straw) can be dangerous and paper straws can be way too flimsy (especially in hot or warm liquids). I think we can all agree plastic is harmful to the environment, but before we come up with a new, better, more sustainable solution for plastic straws, I don't see a problem with the people who need them using them. I highly recommend reading this article for a more in depth look at why disabled people need access to plastic straws.
Basically, this is not a one-size-fits-all issue. There won't be one singular solution, at least for now, that works for all straw users. All I ask of you, dear reader, is to be more mindful of your straw usage. If you can, perhaps it's time to invest in a reusable one!