You may have noticed while dinning at your favorite restaurant or eatery that something is different — as you go to grab an iced cold drink to wash down that burger, you might be wondering where that long plastic device, which allows for more convenient consumption, has gone missing.
Based on a study by the Dalhousie University in Canada, over 300 million metric tons of single use plastics which include plastic bags, cutlery, and yes, straws are produced annually, 50% of which are discarded after a single-use. It is no surprise that plastic straws have seemingly become public enemy number one in recent years. Eater.com reports that big companies like Alaska Airlines, Ikea, and Starbucks are discontinuing their use of plastic straws or vowing to do so. California is the first to enact a statewide law restricting the use of plastic straws. Seattle became the first city to ban straws and other plastic utensils back in 2018. The city of San Francisco previously passed a law of its own banning the use of plastic straws outright and due to fully take effect by the end of 2019.
While most people are all for the idea of ditching the plastic in hopes of taking steps to a more environmentally conscious future, this brings up an existential crisis and some serious questions like “Is this ban really helping the cause?” “What are the alternatives?” and “Will milkshakes even taste the same?” We plan on answering these questions and getting down to the last straw.
So, what are the alternatives and what solutions are companies providing?
Well, companies like Marriott have leaned towards a more paper-based alternative. Paper straws are eco-friendly and biodegradable. They are the most common alternative to plastic ones. Most commercial paper straws are stated to last up to 3 hours in a liquid before they begin to lose their integrity. But anyone who has used a paper straw can tell you that the three-hour window is more like one at best; it really depends on where and what kind of straw the company is using.
Another common alternative is to simply go straw-less. Companies are now required to serve all drinks with no type of straw, unless requested first. However, lids that are currently designed for a straw make this a little trickier — iced coffee lids being just one of the cases, but brands have started developing lids that are no longer depended on using straws. Starbucks, for instance, recently tested out an “adult sippy cup” for its iced coffee and it works just as well. But if you find the idea of drink straight from the cup unappealing, rest assured there is still hope.
Here are a few of other candidates:
- Bamboo straws are lightweight, reusable, and don’t have any chemicals or dyes. Most are made straight from stalks and can be easily washed.
- Steel straws are durable, easy to clean, and can be carried around in a bag without worrying about stains or braking.
- Glass straws are made from borosilicate, which makes it shatter-resistant, break-resistant, and usable in cold and hot temperatures. Borosilicate is the main ingredient in Pyrex products, which you might recognize as the material used in your vintage coffee pot or your grandmother’s Pyrex casserole dish. It is also non-porous, which means bacteria from liquid won’t get stuck in the glass.
Are these efforts working?
The answers is “Yes!” … and no. According to CNN, McDonald’s restaurants in the UK admitted that its new paper straws couldn’t be recycled unlike the plastic versions they had replaced, and the new straws were unpopular even before this as some customers complained that they became soggy in drinks. Looking at the larger scale of things it seems too soon to tell what global impact this ban may have.
Whether you decided to opt out entirely or have already ordered your bamboo straws online, we think anyone can agree that seeking plastic straws alternatives is a step in the right direction, and hopefully when it comes to plastic, this is the final straw.
And yes, milkshakes will still taste just as good.