What’s so bad about plastic straws?
Have you seen the famous video of a plastic straw being removed from a sea turtle’s nose? Although plastic straw waste may appear small compared to other waste we create, plastic straws’ environmental impact can be devastating to ocean life. According to the National Parks Service, The United States collectively uses and discards 500 million straws a day. Most plastic straws end up in trashcans and aren’t recyclable to begin with.
Plastic straws are not necessarily worse than other waste like plastic forks (it’s another sea turtle video), but straws are arguably the least necessary of the plastic items people commonly discard. Add to that the fact that when straws are needed (especially in the case of certain injuries) there are plenty of alternatives like glass, metal, silicone, and bamboo straws, and it turns out breaking the plastic straw habit is manageable and worthwhile.
Breaking the habit
Last year I visited Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, California. PMMC rescues and rehabilitates sick and injured seals and sea lions and provides educational programming. While I was there I learned more about the consequences of plastic waste in our oceans, and I pledged to reduce my plastic trash.
Some ways to do this are:
- When you order water or a drink at a restaurant, tell your server right off the bat that you don’t want a straw. If it’s a restaurant that automatically puts out water with a straw, tell them right when you sit down.
- Carry a reusable straw for when you do need one. I use these Hummingbird Glass straws and always have two with me in case a friend might need one.
- Actually, a third thing you can do if you’re not shy is to say something to restaurants that automatically put straws in drinks. Ask them if they’d be willing to give patrons a choice. After all, they’ll save money if less people use straws.
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There are now many long lasting alternatives to plastic straws. They tend to come in glass, bamboo, metal, and silicone. An investment of $8 to $20 can go a long way. Each straw material has its benefits and drawbacks. Here are well-reviewed straws in each category, starting with the glass straws I use.
I got this set of Hummingbird glass straws because of the great reviews and am so happy with them – but full-disclosure, my husband doesn’t like the feel of the glass – he prefers metal. These straws are made from borosilicate glass, the same material as Pyrex. I accidentally dropped one on the ground and it didn’t break or chip at all! They’re a little wider than your average plastic straw, so they’re perfect for smoothies.
One reason I chose glass over stainless steel and bamboo was so that I could see that they’re really clean inside. This set of hummingbird reusable straws comes with a cleaning brush but I haven’t had to use it yet because the dishwasher does the job.
I find these glass straws more satisfying to drink through than plastic straws. You can use them for hot and cold drinks and they have no taste. I carry two in my backpack (one for a friend) and throw them in the dishwasher after use. Yes, it would be great if they had a carrying case. I’ve been wrapping them in a cloth napkin I got at an estate sale for transport. You can also use a clean tube sock.
All Hummingbird glass straws are handmade in the U.S.A., in Colorado by a glass artist.
There are tons of stainless steel straws on Amazon, but these have the most and highest reviews. Sipwell stainless steel straws are dishwasher safe and designed to work with all Yeti, Ozark Trail, SIC, & RTIC Tumblers. Stainless steel straws can enhance the coldness of cold drinks but are not recommended for hot drinks. These straws are too narrow for smoothies. One common complaint with stainless steel straws is the metallic taste, so they might not be for everyone. I believe these and most stainless steel straws are made in China.
Buluh bamboo straws can be simply rinsed with water, with warm soapy water, or washed in a vinegar solution. They are not dishwasher safe. According to the company, Buluh straws are made from bamboo harvested North of Bali, away from Pandas. The straws can eventually crack if left in liquid for long periods of time. Some people prefer the feel of bamboo over glass and steel.
There are a lot of reusable silicone straws on the market. These (and other) silicone straws are made from food-grade silicone and are dishwasher safe. These in particular are good for 20 and 30oz tumblers. This set comes with a cleaning brush. Silicone straws are good for cold and hot drinks. The benefit of silicone’s softness is that they’re safer for kids and to use while driving. There’s less of a risk of chipping a tooth or poking yourself in the face if an accident occurs. Besides using a dishwasher, you can usually sanitize silicone straws in boiling water, but do NOT put them in the microwave.
One thing to watch out for with silicone straws is their tendency to attract dirt. If you leave them loose in a drawer, stuff may stick to them. I’d recommend keeping them in the pouch they came in in a drawer, and then keep them in a washable pouch in your bag. All of the silicone straws I’ve found are made in China.
It can seem like everything we do is bad for the environment but if a lot of people change seemingly small habits it can have a great impact.