For Going Green
It is estimated that Americans use 500 million plastic straws every single day. 500 million! Sounds questionable, right? While this number was calculated by the Be Straw Free Campaign, started by 9-year old Milo Cress in Vermont in 2011, and is quoted across the internet, there is no question that the ubiquitous single-use plastic straw is often a default part of the modern drink experience. Consider the number of clear, restaurant straws, to-go drink straws, bendy straws, tiny, juice box straws, cocktail straws, and plastic drink stirrers being sucked and chucked every day, and it is easier to understand how the numbers add up to the hundreds of millions.
The concept of the straw as a drinking tool is not new for humans. The ancient Sumerians were sipping beer through hollow tubes 5,000 years ago. But the pervasive use of straws, made possible by cheap plastics, only dates back to the 1970’s, when it was discovered that durable, plastic straws could be pushed through a to-go lid without ripping. Unfortunately, the future impact of billions of straws being tossed into the trash, accumulating in landfills, infiltrating oceans, and poisoning the food chain was not factored into the equation, and has now become part of a global plastics disaster.
The tide is turning, however, plastic-free campaigns are rising, and the common straw is heralding a movement toward eco-friendly and sustainable options. Seattle became the first major city to ban single-use plastic straws on July 1. New York City has proposed legislation to ban plastic straws by 2020, and the Walt Disney Corporation is eliminating plastic straws and stirrers by mid-2019 in all of their locations. Starbucks is phasing out plastic lids on their to-go drinks worldwide and replacing them with a top that has no need for straws, thereby reducing more than one billion straws per year. Bon Appétit, a nationwide food service management company, banned straws and plastic stirrers in its cafés in 33 states. Having bought 17 million plastic straws last year, the company’s decision will lift an enormous plastic burden from our landfills.
Other cities and companies are following suit. Many national parks, hotel chains, such as Hyatt and Marriott, and Royal Caribbean Cruises are making shifts away from single-use plastic straws. American Airlines is eliminating plastic straws from its lounges and replacing them with biodegradable straws and wood stir sticks. And starting in November, they will transition away from plastic straws during inflight drink service. Alaska Airlines replaced plastic straws with sustainable options in their lounges and on all domestic and international flights. In California, the cities of Malibu, Oakland, and Berkeley have new straw rules, and the state of Hawaii is considering a bill on banning straws. New Jersey’s Monmouth Beach approved banning plastic straws, and in Miami Beach, Fort Myers Beach, and St. Petersburg, Florida, plastic straws are becoming a relic of the past.
While banning straws may seem like the answer to the plastic pollution problem, the issue is not that cut and dried. Allies in the disability community have spoken out against a complete ban on plastic straws, expressing their need for the availability of plastic straws in restaurants and establishments. And it is important for companies and municipalities to listen and respond in a way that identifies alternatives and creates an inclusive community for everyone. Offering a choice of straws like many businesses do for items on their menu, from coffees and teas, to wine and beer, to the types of bread for a sandwich, may be a viable solution.
The real wave of change, though, will arrive when people transform their habits and their way of thinking about straws, when they become more conscious of how a simple choice can make a huge difference. By refusing a plastic straw when able, by asking restaurants and coffee shops to carry paper straws and wood or bamboo stirs, and by personally investing in eco-friendly alternatives, the number of straws being carelessly thrown away will be drastically reduced, which is healthier for our environment and for our own health too.
Here are some alternatives to plastic straws to help you get started. From sustainably-sourced single-use options to reusable ones that will last for years, which straw will you draw?
In centuries past, drinking straws were processed from actual grain stalks, as the name suggests. Though the grain’s hollow tube was naturally suited for sipping liquids, the advent of the paper straw pushed grains out of the equation. Now a California company is resurrecting the straw’s pre-industrial roots with a product called Harvest Straws. These natural straws are part of the Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project, which preserves and grows organic, heritage grains that had once thrived in the southern California climate before vineyards, orchards, and row crops became the dominant agriculture. Harvest Straws are sustainably sourced with a low-carbon footprint. Cured and sanitized for health, quick to biodegrade and return to the earth from whence it came, these vintage throwbacks make an environmentally friendly choice for a single-use straw.
Legend has it that Marvin Stone, sipping on a mint julep through a rye grass straw in 1888, became dissatisfied with the residue the straw left in his drink as it disintegrated. Already in the business of manufacturing paper spiral products, he wrapped strips of paper round a pencil and glued them together. Upon removing the pencil, he was left with a hollow, cylindrical tube perfect for delivering a cold beverage. He patented his invention, the first paper straw, and used that patent for the basis of the company he would soon start. Paper straws took over where grain straws left off, but by the1970s, when plastics became a cheaper and more durable alternative, the lure of paper straws faded away.
Then in 2007, responding to the challenge of a more sustainable, eco-friendly option to single-use plastic straws, the same company started by Marvin Stone re-introduced the paper straw with modern advances. By 2014, Aardvark Paper Straws launched the most durable, environmentally-friendly paper straw on the planet.
Made in the USA with food-grade natural papers and inks, Aardvark Straws are BPA-, GMO- and chlorine-free, as well as compostable and biodegradable. They are currently the only paper straw with 100 percent FDA and EU approval, and have a patent pending on their jumbo bendy straw.
Aardvark Straws last 2 to 3 hours in a cold drink and come in a variety of sizes and widths that accommodate sodas, juices, iced teas, milkshakes, smoothies, and cocktails, as well as bar stirs, cake pops, and jumbo straws with flexible necks. Free sample packs are offered to consumers and businesses; just pay a few dollars for shipping. While online sales are limited to bulk purchasing, consumers can buy the sea turtle pack, which was inspired by the viral video of a sea turtle having a straw removed from its nose, for about $8 from their website. Otherwise Aardvark Straws can be purchased on Amazon and at other retailers listed on their website.
For reusable straw options, stainless steel is a worthwhile alternative. Lightweight, strong and durable, they are suitable for hot or cold drinks and can be found in a range of sizes and styles. Stainless steel straws won’t rust and will last for years, greatly reducing the impact of trash on our environment. Most come with a handy cleaning brush and a fairly inexpensive price tag.
Mulled Mind, a Massachusetts based company, handcrafts over 30 different types of straws in 18/10 stainless steel, which is used to make forks and knives. Choose from regular, thick, straight, bent, short, and extra long straws with a lifetime guarantee. http://www.mulledmind.com
Eco At Heart offers reusable, nontoxic, and earth-friendly straws in five designs that include straight, bent, extra long, extra wide, short, and thin options. Made from 18/8 stainless steel, which is food grade standard, these straws are BPA and chemical free, dishwasher safe, and recyclable. http://www.ecoatheart.com
Steelys Drinkware manufactures 18/8 stainless steel, BPA free straws in six varieties. Sold only in bulk, these straws are a great option for large families and businesses. Check out their line of stainless steel drinkware and food containers too. http://www.steelysdrinkware.com
Klean Kanteen makes a high quality 18/8 stainless steel straw with a removable silicone flex tip. While they only sell one size and style, these versatile straws are compatible with Klean Kanteen products such as their water bottles, insulated tumblers, stainless cups, growlers, and kid cups.
The idea of glass straws may make some folks nervous, but good quality straws are made from borosilicate glass, which is extremely tough, durable, and shatter resistant. It is also nonporous, hypoallergenic, and resistant to thermal shock. Borosilicate is the same glass used in Pyrex bowls and cookware, and is the strongest glass commercially available. And yes, glass straws are safe for kids, too.
Produced in a wide array of sizes, styles, lengths and widths, glass straws can also be found with colorful artisan touches. Good for sipping hot or cold drinks, they are recyclable, and can be used in the microwave and dishwasher. Though strong, glass straws still need some special care with storage and transport, just as any glass kitchen item does. While this plastic straw alternative tends to be the most expensive option, it is still worth the investment, especially when many companies offer lifetime guarantees and replacements if their glass straws chip, crack, or break.
Glass Dharma, the original glass straw maker, sells a diverse line of reusable straws with a lifetime guarantee. Free of lead, paints and colorings, their straws are made in the USA and include iced tea straws, smoothie straws, decorative straws, bendy straws, coffee straws, a Camelback “Eddy” compatible straw, straws designed to fit drinkware lids, and special, inspirational etched straws. http://www.glassdharma.com
Simply Straws are dentist-approved, hypoallergenic, and nontoxic. They are sold in straight, bent, clear, and colorful varieties, in 6-to-10-inch lengths, both wide and skinny. Take their online pledge to be eligible for a free glass straw plus shipping costs. http://www.simplystraws.com
Like vintage straws made from grain stalks, bamboo straws are derived straight from nature. These reusable, natural substitutes to plastic straws are sustainably sourced, eco-friendly, and leave a low-carbon footprint. Because of their woody constitution, one of the challenges of bamboo straws is inner moisture content. To prevent mildew growth, it is important to allow the bamboo to dry thoroughly.
Straw Free straws are the only 100 percent made in the USA bamboo straws, using bamboo sourced from southern California. Naturally free of chemicals, these straight straws come in 6-, 8- and 10-inch lengths and are an inexpensive alternative to plastic. http://www.strawfree.org
Brush with Bamboo uses organically grown, whole bamboo stalks for their straws, with no re-compressing or processing. Handmade by artisans in northeast India, where bamboo straws are traditionally used for sipping beer, these straws are washable, reusable and beautiful. Check out the company’s special line of bamboo toothbrushes, too. http://www.brushwithbamboo.com
Bambu was started by Oregonians who relocated to China, where they are dedicated to sustainable practices and working with the local community. Their straws are made from certified organic bamboo, with no inks nor dyes, and are finished for sip readiness. FDA and CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Council) tested and compliant, Bambu straws are sold as a set of six straight straws with a cleaning brush. Browse their compostable dinnerware, bamboo kitchen utensils, cutting boards, bowls, camping utensils, and kids’ products on their website. http://www.bambuhome.com
http://www.strawlessocean.org — A movement dedicated to a healthy planet, free of plastic straws, including resources, actions, and mini-grants.
http://www.lonelywhale.org — Launched the “Strawless in Seattle” campaign to permanently remove 2.3 million single-use plastic straws from the city. Supported Strawless Ocean’s initiative and the #stopsucking social media challenge.
http://www.thelastplasticstraw.org — A movement to eliminate single-use plastics.
http://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org — A global alliance committed to a plastic-free world.
http://www.strawsfilm.com — A short film by Linda Booker, which highlights the role of straws in plastics consumption.
http://www.ecocycle.org — Building zero waste communities though innovative recycling efforts and furthering the Be Straw Free campaign.