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What is the purpose of a plastic straw? And why is it the social norm to use it with a soda, but not, say, coffee or tea?
Not quite sure why? Well, after straws gained popularity in hospitals in the early 1900s to help patients with diseases like polio avoid contact with shared glasses, the reason we use straws in today’s society is quite arbitrary.
The minor convenience of having access to a drink a few inches higher up comes at a taller price. The consequences of using these single-use plastic straws are that they have devastating effects worldwide on animals and the environment.
A viral video from 2015 shows a sea turtle with a cocktail straw almost fully embedded into its nose (those interested can search “Sea turtle with a straw in its nostril”), but unfortunately this graphic scene is not uncommon.
Being so light, plastic straws easily get swept up in the wind and litter countless places where animals mistake the straws for food and ingest them.
Despite all of this, plastic straws can be found in nearly every restaurant, cafeteria, and fast-food establishment around the world, contributing to needless waste.
There is a growing movement of concerned individuals and organizations, however, who are taking a stand to eliminate the world’s dependency on plastic straws.
Major locations, like Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, have already banned them at their establishments and that is just the beginning.
Throughout the country restaurants and bars are doing their part to reduce the plastic straw waste. Some only supply plastics straws upon request, use alternative materials to plastic, or remove straws as an option entirely.
Groups like Straw Free and Last Plastic Straw look to help educate people on the negative impact plastic straws have and shine light on the easily accessible alternatives out there.
Last Plastic Straw estimates that the United States alone uses enough plastic straws to wrap around the earth’s circumference 2.5 times a day, which means there are 500 million straws used and discarded every single day just in America. Do the math and that is 175 billion straws going into landfills and littering the environment every year.
Alternatives To Plastic
For those who use a straw for reasons like preventing darker pigmented drinks from staining teeth, avoiding ice-cold beverages from shocking sensitive teeth, or for just an overall pleasing drink aesthetic, there are plenty of alternatives to plastic available on the market.
Two long-lasting materials that many are turning to are glass and stainless-steel for straws. Both types are durable enough to be reused over and over, and only require a thin brush as a means of cleaning the inside.
Newtown resident and Town Deputy Director of Economic and Community Development Christal Preszler has been using stainless-steel straws at home for about five years.
She says she was inspired to switch to this option, as well as other reusable items like cloth napkins and stainless-steel water bottles, based on “economics, health, the environment, and living simply.”
Rather than having to replace an item after each use, Ms Preszler finds that for her it is more cost effective to purchase a reusable item and know it will always be there when she needs it.
She added that another incentive to using alternative materials is that “it minimizes possible exposure to some potentially unhealthy plastics and reduces our contribution to the waste stream.”
The stainless-steel straws she purchased come from New Morning Market in Woodbury, and she says she does not notice a difference in her drink’s taste when using the straws.
Those looking for less maintenance and longevity for their straw choice can utilize the many bridgeable, compost-friendly, and edible straw options available.
There are bamboo, corn-starch, and paper straw options that are gaining popularity with people looking to eliminate plastic straws.
Paper straws in particular have been around since 1888, when Marvin C. Stone created the first paper drinking straw prototype. He spiraled strips of paper around a pencil and glued the ends together. Noticing the straw became soggy, he later experimented with paraffin-wax coated manila paper and patented the invention.
The latter idea was such a success that his patent became the foundation for his company, which today manufactures Aardvark® “The Original Paper Straw,” and is still a leading brand in the paper straw business.
Aardvark Straws are not only biodegradable and compostable, but they are also made in the United States and are FDA-approved, chlorine free, and come in a variety of colors, designs, and sizes.
These alternative items to plastic are not only available in standard sizes, but also smaller straws for cocktails, larger ones for smoothies, and bendy straws for children.
In 2017, with so many options out there, it is easier than ever to say, “This is the last straw” to plastic straws.