17 Jan 2018


It is estimated that in the US alone 500,000,000 straws are discarded every day.  
That's enough to fill almost 47,000 school buses each year.

Straws long outdate plastics and single use products.

The oldest drinking straw in existence was found in a Sumerian tomb dated 3,000 B.C.E  It was crafted with gold and was inlaid with lapis lazuli.  Very flash indeed. The Sumerians used straws to filter beer (although not all were crafted from gold, some were made with reeds).  Similarly, South American peoples used straws (called bombilla) to sieve and drink their local tea, Yerba Mate.

In the 1800's rye grass straws came into fashion and in 1888 the modern drinking straw, made of paper, was patented by Marvin C. Stone.  Not impressed by his Mint Julep tasting like grass he had an idea to use drinking tubes made from paper.  His first paper straw, a thin tube made by wrapping paper around a pen, was held together by glue.  He later started to use wax to coat the straw and improve durability.

In the 1950s, as consumers demanded more convenience the use of straws became more and more popular. Fast food entered the scene and restaurants started replacing washable glassware with cheap disposables for quick, on the run meals and drinks.  In the 60's plastic was introduced and started to replace paper.  As a result,  the renewable, paper straw became an oil based, single use product.

The problem with straws is 2 fold - production and pollution.  Making plastics means extracting more oil and gas. It means more electricity to power plastic production.  Making straws means more fuel to ship the plastics to the straw manufacturers and more electricity to power straw production.  It then means packaging and more fuel to ship the product to the consumer.  And at the end of your drink your straw ends up in the bin and will eventually find it's way to landfill where the resource is totally wasted and takes up valuable space,  or in the ocean where it is estimated 250,000 tonnes of plastic resides.

Oh, and plastics LAST FOREVER.  That's why we made it to begin with - to be durable and long lasting.  Every single piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists on this planet.  Ok for tupperware, not so crash hot for all the plastic bags and bottles and, yes, straws, that end up discarded every day.  

So how can we make a better choice?

If you need to (or just really enjoy) using a straw there are many reusable options available that will keep plastic out of landfill and out of the sea - stainless steel, glass and bamboo for example.  To minimise your impact, when choosing a reusable straw try think about packaging (the less the better), where it was made (choose local!) and durability (will it biodegrade, will it last a long time, what will happen to it in the end?)

Of course the best option is to say No Thanks!  Straws are an often unnecessary convenience. Next time you're at a restaurant or a bar try asking for your drink without a straw!

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