In the US alone, one estimate suggests we use 500 million drinking straws every day. While that number is unverified, it's true that plastic straws account for a lot of waste.
Two Australian scientists conducted a study based on trash collection during cleanups of US coastlines. They estimate that there are nearly 7.5 million plastic straws on America's shorelines, and up to 8.3 billion of them on shorelines worldwide.
That's a lot of plastic, and we're only talking about straws. It doesn't even account for all of the plastic bags, food packaging, cutlery and other types of garbage on the shorelines and in our oceans.
Much like plastic bags, disposable plastic straws have been the target of bans in an attempt to fix this problem.
- Canada is going to enforce a country-wide ban on plastic straws in 2021.
- The entire EU is going to ban plastic straws by 2021.
- In Brazil, the city of Rio de Janeiro became the first state capital of Brazil to ban plastic straws.
- Bans on plastic straws are in place in various areas of the United States. This includes the cities of Seattle and Santa Cruz.
Those are only a few of the places where plastic straw bans are either in effect or are proposed. The world is waking up to the fact that single-use plastics are a plague on our planet, and that's a good thing.
Plastic straws are convenient, and some people need them out of necessity because they can't physically drink out of a glass or bottle without a straw.
How Plastic Straws Harm The Environment
It's not hard to guess that plastic straws are bad for the environment. But exactly why are they bad? Let's take a closer look.
- Plastic straws are too small to be recycled. “Plastic straws and other items smaller than two by two inches, such as plastic utensils, fall through the machinery that sorts our recycling,” says Jonathan Kuhl of the D.C. Department of Public Works
- Plastic doesn't biodegrade or decompose. When it breaks down, it simply breaks down into smaller and smaller particles of plastic—also known as microplastics—that pollute our oceans, poisoning animals and hurting the environment.
- Animals don't know the difference between plastic and food. They're quick to eat the plastic, which provides them with zero nutrition, and can lead to suffocation and death to the animal.
Plastic Straws Are a Small Contributor to Plastic Waste. But They're an Important One
It's true that relatively speaking, the amount of plastic waste that comes from straws is a small fraction of the total plastic waste we generate. Plastic straws only account for 2,000 tons of the nearly 9 million tons of plastic waste that yearly hits the waters—about 0.02%.
So, why make a big deal about it?
While the plastic waste that comes from straws may be a small fraction of our plastic waste, it's an important one. It's essentially become a poster child for the anti-single-use plastic movement.
Maybe the banning of plastic straws in itself won't change the world. What it will do is educate people that single-use plastics are awful for our planet, and that there are changes they can make in their consumption habits that can have a real effect on our planet.
In 2017, a video of a plastic straw being removed from a sea turtle's nose (warning: it's a graphic video) sparked public outrage and became the catalyst for the demand that we ban plastic straws.
Small things can spark big changes in our world, and the plastic straw problem, while a small one in the grand scheme of things, is an important one in terms of educating the world about how much plastic waste we're producing.
Alternatives to Plastic Straws
There are a few different alternatives to plastic straws, but they aren't perfect.
- Stainless steel straws - The most common alternative, but with their own set of problems. You're supposed to be careful with them, not use them in the car or leave them in a container or bottle, because they can become dangerous as a hard piece of metal sticking up. They also affect the taste of drinks. You also have to be aware of what the straws are made of—sketchy straws made in China could be made of unsafe metal or contain contaminants.
- Glass straws - Another alternative that we recommend avoiding. Most glass straws are made of borosilicate—the main ingredient in Pyrex—and are designed not to crack or break. They have the same issues stainless straws have with the additional risk of them chipping and breaking.
- Paper straws - Many restaurants are giving out paper straws as an alternative to plastic straws. Most people aren't crazy about them, because unless you slurp up your drink in a few minutes, they start to get soggy. They also affect the taste of the beverage and are single-use just like plastic straws.
- Bamboo straws - A good eco-friendly option. The problem most people have with bamboo straws is that they can give a "woody" taste to the beverage. They also tend to grow mold very quickly if you use them a lot. They tend to not last very long, either, but at the end of their lifecycle you can compost them.
- Silicone straws - We believe these are the best reusable straws. Not only do they not affect the taste of the beverage, but they can't hurt you like glass or steel straws. Unfortunately, these straws are not recyclable or compostable at the end of their life.
Caring For Your Reusable Straws
Proper care and cleaning of your reusable straws is important to eliminate the risk of mold growing inside them or damaging them.
These tips go for any reusable straw, no matter what material they're made from.
- Clean them as quickly as possible. It can be difficult to clean the inside of the straw well, so rinse and clean them as soon as you can. This is especially important if you drink something like a smoothie, which can lead to hard, dried out smoothie stuck to the inside of the straw.
- Use a pipe cleaner or straw brush. A lot of reusable brushes come with a convenient brush cleaner. You can't just rinse the straw out—you have to really get in there with the cleaner and some hot, soapy water.
- Clean them before the first use. When you get a new set of straws, always clean them well before using them for the first time. There can be contaminants or other nasty things in there that you wouldn't want to ingest.
- Inspect the straws well. Any kind of reusable straw, be it glass, metal or silicone, can become damaged over time. Make sure that no rust is forming on metal straws, there are no chips or cracks in a glass straw, and no pieces broken or worn out on a silicone straw.
Flathead straws are made from food-grade, BPA-free silicone. These are just like the usual plastic straws that we are used to, but are 100% better because it is more environmentally friendly! These reusable straws are slightly bent and are about 10 inches in length, which makes it suitable even for for 30 - 40 oz tumblers. What's great though is you can also trim the straws to your desired length if you find it too long.
The Flathead straws are also very easy to maintain. Just pop it in the dishwasher or clean it with the brush that goes with your purchase. It's an affordable buy as it already includes 10 straws that come in blue, teal, purple, and pink. It's a great and practical gift to give to your loved ones, friends, and colleagues.
Best For Smoothies
Mcool silicone straws are probably the best reusable straws for shakes and smoothies. The standard size of most reusable straws is 0.18" in diameter, but the Mcool straws come at a bigger size of 0.35". Its wide opening allows thick liquids (think shakes, smoothies, milkshakes) to easily pass through.
Each pack comes with 8 colorful straws and 4 cleaning brushes. It is made of natural food-grade silicone so you are guaranteed that it is safe to use, even by children. It's easy to clean, easy to store, and easy to carry around. Probably the best thing about it is it comes with a 5-year warranty. Any issues you may encounter can easily be addressed - how awesome is that?
Collapsible & Portable
Doboli metal straws are made of high quality stainless steel that is guaranteed to help minimize environmental and marine pollution. These straws are pretty great because you no longer have to worry about it protruding anywhere. Why? Because these can be compressed into a smaller size - from the extended length of 9.25" down to 3.93". Aside from the straw, even the cleaning brush can be compressed so all of it can fit into a small metal case.
The cases come in different colors and you have the option to attach a keychain to it. The great thing about it is the case doesn't look like a metal straw holder, so you don't need to worry about it compromising your look even if it's hanging from your bag or stored in your pocket. Each purchase comes with 2 straws, 2 cleaning brushes, 2 metal cases, and 2 keychains - now this is really something you can bring everywhere.
OXO Straws are stainless steel BPA-free reusable straws. Each set purchased comes with two 10.5 inch straws, a cleaning brush, and a case. Because of its material, these straws are guaranteed to be durable enough to last for several years.
A great feature of this brand is the silicone tip that attaches to the metal straw. It's soft enough to be used even by kids, and it easily comes apart when it needs to be cleaned. The case comes in 2 colors: red or green, and the actual straw is easy to clean whether by hand washing or through a dishwasher.
A Wide Selection
We love Gosili straws because they offer so many great options that meet whatever drinking needs you may have. They have silicone straws that are extendable, extra-wide, or extra long. They also sell metal cases that are compact enough to fit your pockets. They also have a cool silicone stretchy lid that you can use to cover open glasses or mugs, perfect for those who are always on the go.
These straws meet all your possible drinking requirements. Whether slurping water or soda, smoothies or milkshakes, using an ordinary glass or a big tumbler - Gosili has an answer for you! Not only do their straws have different functions, but it also comes in different colors. It's practically a one-stop-shop for all your straw needs.
Klean Kanteen is known for their high-quality stainless steel tumblers, and now they're also offering food-grade stainless steel straws. These metal straws come with a silicone tip that's easy on the lips and your teeth. This tip can come in black or several colors: orange, green, blue and purple. It is also detachable to make cleaning easy.
Probably the best thing about the Klean Kanteen straws is it's backed by the brand's Strong as Steel Guarantee, which will replace the straw if there's any issues with it.
Cute Carrying Case
Ecotribe's stainless steel straws are guaranteed non-toxic and BPA-free, making them perfect to be reuse again and again. This straw is also shatterproof and rustproof.
Each pack of the Ecotribe Steel Straw kit includes 4 straight straws, that measure about 8.5 inches, 2 wooden cases, and 2 cleaning brushes. It's easy to clean, easy to store, and easy to bring everywhere.
Ecotribe also has drinking accessories that can be used for bobas, smoothies, or any kind of thick drink. Not only is it functional, but they're pretty, too. It's a great gift to give anyone for any occasion.