Drinking straws have been part of the daily routine of millions of people around the world for decades. Recently, however, they have become a symbol of bad habits that we must abandon if we care about the environment.
Disposable plastics are generally one of the most polluting materials among those widely used. As a result, governments around the world are trying to reduce it. The European Union, for example, has banned the sale of disposable plastic items, such as plates, cotton flosses and straws, from 2021. For this reason, producers and restaurateurs, mainly in the United States, are studying a way to replace them. However, it’s not easy at all.
The Taboo of Drinking Straws
There are places, in the largest and most progressive American cities such as New York or San Francisco, where plastic straws are now a kind of taboo. The same is also happening with plastic bottles, especially in Europe. It is therefore a common opinion that more and more people will have an interest in the environmental issue. That is why many companies are looking at alternatives. Reusable bottles are currently very popular, but the same doesn’t apply to metal, paper or silicone straws.
According to estimates by the research company Eunomia, at least 20 billion straws are used in the United States every year. These are billions of objects that we produce every day in the world, use for a few minutes and then throw away. We only recycle a fraction of the plastic we use. Moreover, a significant percentage of the plastic we waste ends up at sea. Here, it seriously threatens marine life, as well as releasing microplastics that then end up in our food.
It is no coincidence that one of the most important contributions to raising awareness on drinking straws came from the video of a turtle with a straw in its nostril. The video was published by a Texas researcher in 2015 and was seen tens of millions of times on YouTube.
Alternatives to Plastics
Finding a solution to get rid of disposable plastics is not that simple. In fact, straws made from alternative materials to plastic cost a lot more, work worse and are sometimes not recyclable. Metallic straws, for example, have caused deaths among the people who have inadvertently swallowed them, and are pretty expensive. Restaurants that have tried to offer them to customers have complained that many are being stolen. And the environmental benefits of a metal straw disappear if it becomes disposable.
Paper straws are also more expensive than plastic ones. However, they peel off, especially if they are immersed in liquid for a long time, and are often thinner than plastic straws. To produce them, then, you have to cut down trees, or recycle the paper. This often requires more water and energy than is necessary to produce the same plastic object.
There are also bamboo straws, hay straws, silicone straws and even meat straws used for cocktails like Bloody Mary.
Let’s Just Stop Using Straws
Persuading people to always carry reusable straws seems also difficult. For this reason, some people propose a different approach to the problem. Straws are not really a basic need for the vast majority of people, except for some people with disabilities. We could easily do without them, changing our habits a bit and specifically the way we drink. Thinking of solving the problem of plastic straws by replacing their material is based on the principle that we can reduce the damage caused by consumerism by consuming.
We should probably just stop using them. Also because straws are often used to drink from plastic glasses, or with a plastic lid. Although straws are one of the most polluting disposable objects, there are many others in daily use that we often do not think about because we are too concentrated on straws.