THE LAST STRAW
Single use straws made sense when contaminated cups were an issue. Thanks to improved hygiene standards, catching infectious diseases from drinking vessels is less of an issue but now we have bigger things to worry about. Disposable plastic drinking straws are an environmental disaster.
The problem with straws Unable to be recycled, plastic straws are used for 20 minutes at most, then remain intact for hundreds of years. At the popular Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia, scuba diver Kasey Turner found 319 straws during a 20-minute snorkel. Only 1 day later she returned and found an additional 294 straws at the same spot! The following weekend she repeated this exercise and found a further 150 straws, showing just how quickly these straws accumulate. And they’re everywhere. According to the Ocean Conservancy’s 2017 Report, straws made the list of top 10 pollutants littering international coastlines.
Besides making a mess, straws do terrible damage to aquatic life. A video posted in 2015 showing a plastic drinking straw being painfully extracted from the nostril of a turtle off Costa Rica (the video has a warning that it may be inappropriate for some users because it is so upsetting). Straws are even swallowed by seabirds, which then puncture vital organs or block airways leading to a horrible death.
Compostable drinking straws are not much better than plastic straws as very few people compost them, and they are not designed to break down in the ocean. Even if some plastic straws do manage to break down, they become smaller microplastics that fish then eat, and we then eat those fish, plastic and all (yuk). By 2025 it’s been projected there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.
Straws don’t always suck Straws do have some great uses. Not only do they give us that Instagram perfect pout as we sip on a cocktail, they also keep ladies’ lipstick intact, and make for a less messy drinking experience for kids (especially in the car). Straws can also reduce contact between sugary drinks and teeth, which helps prevent cavities and dental erosion. As straws send liquid to the back of the mouth they reduce flavour exposure for those suffering from nausea (e.g during chemotherapy or morning sickness). Bendy straws also make drinking easier for the less-able, such as the ill, frail, or those with coordination and movement difficulties.
Do you really need a straw? You don’t drink beer or wine through a straw, so why not just say “no straw please”. Your drinks taste just as good (probably better) without a plastic straw. Perhaps a bit more “slow eating” (and drinking) would help. Straws tend to go with grab ‘n go drinks with bubbles and sugar. Let’s face it, we could do with less of these. Taking water with you in a re-usable bottle has health and environmental benefits.
But I’m a sucker for straws! For those of you who can’t give up your straws, there are alternatives, and trendy ones at that. Some bars and cafes already have stainless steel, re-useable straws. You already use their metal cutlery, so why not a metal straw? Metal straws have the added benefit of becoming chilled, which makes your drink even more refreshing, and no plastic taste. You can even buy a stainless-steel straw for home-use and they often come with a cleaning brush. Other plastic straw alternatives include copper, glass and bamboo straws. You can even buy straws from Harvest Straws made from (would you believe it) straw! That’s right, straws have come full circle and are now once again made of wheat or rye straw.
Keeping it green, in a nutshell
- Single-use plastic straws are an environmental disaster and can be devastating to marine life.
- To reduce plastic pollution, asks for drinks with “no straw please”
- For straw devotees, try a reusable drinking straw.
Thanks to Rachel Ananin AKA TheSeasonalDietitian.com for her assistance with this article.
Nicole Senior is an Accredited Nutritionist, author, consultant, cook, food enthusiast and mother who strives to make sense of nutrition science and delights in making healthy food delicious. Contact: You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or check out her website.