What’s the Deal with Straws?

You probably learned to use a straw at a young age.  Elementary school was spent piercing juice pouches with the pointed tip of a straw, high school was spent sharing a milkshake with two straws (if you’re from a cliche romance movie, anyway), college was spent drinking copious amounts of iced coffees, and adulthood full of cocktails with tiny straws that nobody can really drink out of anyway. Most of us grew up with and continue to live with disposable straw, but never thought twice about it. They’re a convenient way to transport your beverage to your mouth without tipping your glass. Personally, I rarely drink anything without a straw. I just like it better. So what’s the deal with straws and why are people talking about banning them?

If you haven’t seen this chilling video of a sea turtle having a straw removed from its nose, let me summarize it for you: it’s horrifying. This poor sea turtle in Costa Rica managed to lodge a plastic straw in its nose so tight that it required the help of several researchers and tools to remove, and it is very obviously painful. This video has over 32 million views and its viral nature opened up many people to the reality of plastic in our oceans.

The National Park Service believes that as of 2018, Americans are using 500 million plastic straws DAILY. This is more than one straw per person a day. Not to mention all of the other disposable plastic ware we consume including cups, plates, utensils… But that’s probably for another post.

This is why states like California and cities like Seattle are starting bans on plastic straws, and companies like Starbucks are vowing to remove them from their businesses. While straws are a drop in a sea of plastic, they’re arguably the most unnecessary of the plastic we consume. They’re also much more difficult to recycle than their cup counterparts, because they can wedge into the recycling machinery, which is why Starbucks in particular is pushing for a cold beverage lid that is less likely to get stuck in recycling machines.

Photo: Starbucks

Yes, many disabled folks need a straw to consume beverages on their own. I know this well: my best friend is a quadriplegic. Without a straw, she loses the dignity of self-sufficiency and I have to place a cup or bottle to her mouth for her to drink. For this reason, she carries bendable straws everywhere she goes as a part of her kit of medically necessary items. Providing straws for disabled folks is a great thing for businesses to do, but personally, I think it’s unnecessary to be an obligation. Half the time in our experience, a business that carries straws does not carry straws that are bendable enough for my friend to use anyway. Due to the nature of her disability, it is not always easy or practical for her to utilize a reusable straw, which is why the disposable plastic straw is the top choice for her and many others with disabilities like hers. At a cost a penny or less per straw, it’s affordable to provide her own.

So now what? If you are able to, start using a biodegradable or reusable straw. There are many options outside of plastic: paper, stainless steel, and silicone. I go for paper or stainless steel, because I can still dispose of paper straws after one use when that is more practical, and stainless steel is easier to keep clean than silicone. I use these paper straws from Amazon, and at $8.99 for 200, they’re incredibly affordable for when I have guests over or I am drinking something other than water that would be difficult to clean from a reusable straw. I find that this brand does not become soggy before I finish my drink. I also keep these stainless steel straws at work and at home, and they came with two brushes, so I can keep a brush at the office for easy cleaning. If you are someone on the go more often than not, there are also individually wrapped paper straws and collapsible metal straws available.