Each day, more than 500 million straws find their way into trash cans—and eventually our oceans, beaches, and sometimes animals. Choosing a more sustainable option is an easy way to reduce your impact.
This month, several companies, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Marriott announced they were phasing out single-use plastic straws in their businesses. They join U.S. cities including Seattle, San Francisco, and Ft. Myers Beach, Florida that have also banned the plastic drink accessories.
Each day, 500 million plastic straws are dumped into garbage bins. That’s about 1.6 straws per person, or enough to fill 125 school buses every day, according to the National Park Service. (That’s a lot of straws, folks.)
With this move, Starbucks alone estimates it will prevent more than 1 billion straws from making their way into our landfills, oceans, and shorelines. (The full phase-out won’t be complete until 2020.)
Eliminating plastic straws is just the latest target of eco activists eyeing plastic pollution. An earlier project, plastic bag bans, was successful in cities like Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Seattle, among others. Some stores, including Target, incentivize customers to use reusable totes by giving you discounts on your shopping total in cities where the bans aren’t in place yet.
While plastic straws might not seem as large a problem as plastic containers, the large quantity of straws—and the fact they often escape collections systems—is why the initiative has resonated and picked up steam so quickly. Straws only make up about four percent of all plastic trash by weight—they’re very light after all, weighing only 1/70 of an ounce. But billions of straws every year add up, and estimates are that plastic straws alone contribute nearly 2,000 tons of plastic waste.
This plastic waste has a real impact, too: Take, for example, a video of a sea turtle having a plastic straw removed from its nose. Seabirds ingest as much as eight percent of their body weight in plastic. That, Denise Hardesty of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation told the Associated Press, “is equivalent to the average woman having the weight of two babies in her stomach.”
Indeed, the World Economic Forum, a Swiss non-profit, estimates that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
That leaves the plastic straw users—that’s me and you—to decide if the inconvenience of not having a plastic straw is worth the benefit of protecting our sealife, oceans, and beaches.
Do keep in mind, however, that some communities need plastic straws for their daily lives. Since the straw bans began popping up, disability organizations have stressed the need for these devices in many groups, and they’re asking stores to maintain a supply of options for these customers’ needs.
However, if you don’t need the straws and can ditch the plastic polluter, here are six eco-friendly straw alternatives that can help you transition away from plastic straw use. While your city or business may never make the choice to ban this source of pollution, you can help by eliminating your daily 1.6 straws. Every straw that doesn’t end up in the sea counts.
6 Eco-Friendly Straw Alternatives
Pros: Considered the most eco-friendly straw alternative because of how long they last, metal straws are a good alternative for cold sippers. Most come with brushes that help you scrub the inside of the straw.
Cons: Hot drinks and soups may turn the metal too hot for sensitive lips. Look for metal straws with silicone tips to solve this dilemma. They’re also not all bendable—the Last Straw is adjustable; iit comes in a pack of 3 for $15.
Pros: Before there were plastic straws, there were paper straws—but before there were paper straws, there were straw straws. If you’re for keeping your sippers old school, take it back to stalks made of grain. Today’s grain straws are made from wheat, rye, and other natural grains. Look for an eco-friendly ones that are biodegradable and made with non-GMO grains that are not treated with chemicals.
Cons: These are also single-use, but they’re about as natural as you can get. Some are made from grain composites, and some are just the leftover stalks of wheat that have been cleaned, cut, and packaged to sell.
One to try: HAY! Natural Drinking Straws, $10/100 straws
Pros: Silicone straws are safe for people of all ages to use. They also don’t conduct heat as easily as metal, so they can be used in hot soups or drinks. They’re also reusable, and many come with a thin brush so you can thoroughly wash the inside of the straw. They are more flexible than some alternatives, which makes them great for children and some people with disabilities.
Cons: Many silicone straws are a bit bigger than traditional plastic straws, so it may take some getting used to when you’re using it in your sparkling water or mixed drink. That means they also don’t always fit standard lids. Some are straight; others are made with a natural bend.
Pro: Colorful paper straws were en vogue about a decade ago as a chic decorating item at birthday parties, weddings, and more. Those aren’t the straws you’re looking for, however. Most of them are not made to be biodegradable or even used for more than a few sips. (And a little tip: some aren’t even food safe. Read the labels!)
Con: They’re single-use straws, and even with natural wax coatings, they begin to break down in drinks after a brief period of time.
One to try: Aardvark Paper Drink Draws, $13/24 straws
Pros: It’s like Mother Nature knew we’d want to drink liquids through a tube. Bamboo is a naturally hollow resource that’s easy to grow. That means bamboo straws are one of the most sustainable, all-natural straw alternatives you can buy. They also happen to be lightweight and reusable, and they’re a perfect match for any Tiki parties you’re itching to throw.
Cons: They’re bamboo—and that isn’t always appealing to have in your mouth. They texture can be a little off putting, and the sizes can be irregular since you’re relying on the bamboo’s natural growth for the straw’s girth. They do eventually begin to break down, so you’ll have to pitch them and replace with a new.
Pros: They’re see-through, so that gets a thumbs up for cleaning. You can tell if the brush is getting every sticky spot out. Most glass straws are made with borosilicate glass (the same type used in Pyrex), so they’re not likely to break easily.
Cons: They do conduct heat from hot drinks or soups, so they may turn a bit warm to the touch. Also, they’re glass, and glass breaks. Maybe don’t give this to your toddler.
One to try: Strawesome Barely Bent Glass Straw Set, $34-$41/set of 4 (Cleaning brush sold separately.)