If 10 years ago you’d have said straws would become a universal symbol for saving the planet, I’m not sure many would have believed you.
Fast forward and not only do reusable straws represent sustainability and progression, but they have become huge talking points for businesses and in the media. When it comes to the sustainability debate, it really does seem like straws broke the camel’s back.
While plastic straws are still around, an abundance of reusable straws have hit the market ranging from bamboo to metal. But which straw is the most sustainable? Are there any negative impacts of reusable straws? And does switching to reusable straws really make a difference to the planet?
Why Are Plastic Straws Bad For the Environment?
All plastic, not just straws, is terrible for the planet. This is because most plastic does not breakdown. Once it’s here, we’re stuck it with. This leads to huge “plastic mountains” in our Oceans (1), which is devastating to marine and other wildlife. It is an issue that will only get worse if current plastic-habits maintain.
Plastic straws are particularly harmful due to their short-term, one-time use and high demand. They are cheap and used widely by the largest businesses on Earth. Think fast-food chains, restaurants, airlines, and cruises.
The unconscious use of straws is what makes them particularly bad for the environment. Plastic straws are rarely used more than once and often disposed of without being used at all.
Fortunately, paper, bamboo, glass, and metal reusable straws are a much more sustainable means – and they’re starting to go mainstream.
Do Reusable Straws Really Make A Difference?
It’s understandable to question whether reusable straws actually make a difference to the planet. After all, straws are just small pieces of plastic. And the majority of plastic in the ocean is produced by commercial fishing (2), so what’re a few straws?
But straws are important as they set a tone for the way we live. If we’re conscious of even the smallest environmental impact then we’re poised to deal with much larger impacts.
Additionally, the environmental impact of straws is actually quite large.
It is estimated that 500 million straws are used every single day (3). 500 million. Based on this figure, each individual would use about 38,000 straws in their lifetime.
That’s 38,000 straws that we’re likely to contribute to the Ocean each. Due to their small size, straws can also cause more harm than larger pieces of plastic, as they often end up in the stomachs of fish, dolphins and whales.
When you weigh up the numbers, it becomes evident that plastic straws have a direct negative effect on the environment.
Reusable straws provide a solution.
Things To Consider When Choosing Reusable Straws
Once you decide to ditch plastic and move towards sustainable consumption, straws are a natural first step.
There are a lot of sustainable and reusable straw options available, including:
- Metal straws
- Bamboo straws
- Glass straws
- Paper straws (not reusable)
Each straw is naturally a better option for the planet than plastic, but not all straws are made equal. For example, metal straws are more sustainable than paper straws as they do not cause waste. Bamboo straws are a great reusable option, however, they require more care than metal straws as they can be prone to mold. But, then again, Bamboo doesn’t require the same resources to manufacture as metal or glass.
What Is The Most Sustainable Type Of Straw?
When considering which type of reusable straw is the most sustainable, it’s important to look at a few things:
- The longevity of the straw
- What materials are used
- And its manufacturing process
Metal, glass, and bamboo can all technically be lifetime straws, however, bamboo is less likely to last as long. But that doesn’t mean bamboo isn’t as sustainable, and in many aspects, bamboo may actually be the most sustainable straw. This is because most bamboo is handmade and not requiring machinery to manufacture. Bamboo is also 100% biodegradable.
While relatively subjective, it seems bamboo is likely the most sustainable of straws. However, this is minor as metal and glass are close behind.
Cleaning Reusable Straws
When it comes to sustainable straws, cleaning comes with the territory. Thankfully, most reusable straws come with a long straw-cleaner which can easily clean hard-to-reach spots.
It’s always best to clean the straw directly after use, but reusable straws can also be soaked in hot water or put in the dishwasher too.
Bamboo straws require a little more cleaning care than metal or glass straws. If left dirty, bamboo can develop mold. However, adequately cared for bamboo straws can last years.
Reusable Straw Safety
If you’re used to plastic straws, transitioning to a reusable straw does come with some safety concerns to be mindful of.
Hot drinks – Metal heats up fast. If you’re used to drinking hot drinks with a straw, metal might not be your best option. The straws can get very hot. Bamboo might be a better option here.
Rigid – While you might be used to flexible plastic straws, reusable straws are often extremely rigid and narrow. For this reason, they may cause harm if fallen on or if they get in the hands of young children.
Non-chewable – If you’re someone who is used to chewing on plastic straws, the transition to metal might come as a surprise. Continuously biting a metal straw may cause dental issues.
The Best Reusable Straws To Buy
Reusable straws are growing in popularity. As long as you don’t lose it, a reusable straw could serve a person for life.
When you consider, on average, a person uses 1.6 plastic straws per day (4) that means, by choosing reusable straws, every single day you’re significantly reducing your plastic impact.
Here are some great reusable straw options available to buy online:
Simply Straws Glass Travel Straw
Perfect straw for when you’re on the road with a high-quality glass straw, protective case, and cleaning brush.
You can choose between a bent or straight straw.
Buy it here.
VEHHE Stainless Steel Drinking Straws
Simple, budget-friendly reusable metal straws that come with a cleaning brush and carrying case.
Buy them here.
Bamboo Drinking Straws by Infinite Realm
These bamboo straws are made with 100% sustainable bamboo. They are also dishwasher-friendly and come with a cleaning brush and sleeve.
Buy them here.
Natuarlik Biodegradable Paper Straws
Opting for paper straws? These sets of 100% biodegradable paper straws are a great alternative to plastic.
Buy them here.
What Other Things Can You Do To Reduce Plastic?
While reusable straws play an important role in reducing our plastic use, they are only a small piece of the puzzle.
To truly reduce our impact on plastic here are some things you can do:
1. Avoid Sea Food
When it comes to plastic in our Oceans, the elephant – or whale – in the room is the fishing industry. A 2018 study found 46% of the plastics in the Ocean come from discarded fishing equipment.
This means the very best way to reduce plastic (in the Ocean) is to not contribute to the main source, fishing.
2. Avoid All Single-Use Plastics
It’s not just straws that are a major contributor of unnecessary plastic. Grocery bags and plastic drink bottles also play a major role in how much plastic we go through daily.
To make more of an impact buy reusable shopping bags and drink bottles to reduce your impact even more.
3. Choose Glass Or Metal Storage Containers
Switch over to more sustainable materials to store your food. Glass and metal are much better options than plastic.
With your old plastic containers, try to repurpose them for something else.
3. Buy Bulk
Purchasing products in bulk is a much more environmentally friendly way to go. This is sometimes called buying “loose products” at grocery stores. These products are often found in large glass containers that you’re able to fill into smaller containers. It is a more responsible way to shop.
4. Get Creative
Instead of throwing out old plastics try to repurpose them into something creative. An example is turning plastic containers into unique plant pots.
5. Set An Example
Showing your friends and family what it means to be sustainable is a perfect way to make an impact. You’re effectively doubling your impact by reaching just one other person.
And after all, the planet is all of ours. We all have a responsibility to do better.