Be Your Own Birder

Are Reusable Straws the Wrong Answer?

As I’ve attempted to go straw-free this year with great enthusiasm and intention, if not always great results, the idea of reusable straws keeps coming up. I’ve had different metal, glass, and even silicone straws recommended to me, visited reusable straw booths at local environmental events, and seen countless ads for reusable straws pop up on different websites. But I haven’t yet purchased one – instead, I’ve been thinking a great deal. Are reusable straws really the best alternative to straws, and are they truly as green as they claim to be?

Green Straws

Green Straws – Photo by Alex Brown

Before purchasing a reusable straw, we need to consider where those straws come from and what they can become over time, including…

  • What energy consumption is necessary to produce reusable straws, and what waste products are created by that production?
  • If ordered online, what type of packaging, box, or wrap does the straw come in? Is that packaging at all recyclable?
  • How long is the true lifespan of a reusable straw? How easily can it be dented, chipped, or damaged, becoming useless and needing disposal?
  • Will the straw be recyclable after it is no longer useful, or will it simply contribute one more piece of trash to already clogged landfills?

Of course, the answers to these questions can be difficult to calculate. The overall reusability of any straw will vary depending on how it is treated on a daily basis, how frequently it may be used, how it is cleaned, and how any individual reuses the straw, such as if they feel it needs to be replaced for aesthetic reasons, if it is lost, etc. But there are other reasons why reusable straws may not be the best way to treat the “straw problem” that gives us all this single-use difficult-to-recycle plastic.

  • The high cost of reusable straws – at least several dollars for a single straw – will discourage more frugally-minded drinkers, especially when plastic straws are often free with drink purchases.
  • Taste differences, or even the perception of taste differences, with metal and plastic straws may keep people from trying reusable straws, or from continuing to use them if they do taste anything different.
  • Knock-off, poorly manufactured reusable straws will break or fall apart more quickly, causing frustration and adding to garbage piles even though the consumers may have had the best intentions.
  • Restaurants and bars are still likely to keep plastic straws on hand for anyone who asks or who may forget a reusable alternative. Because they’re easy to request, there is less incentive for being dedicated to reusable straws.

It may seem like reusable straws will solve the problem of millions of tiny plastic tubes discarded on a daily basis, but it’s clear that reusable straws are not the simple solution they may claim to be. There is one simple alternative that is easy, free, and solves the straw problem completely… But that’s a discussion for another time! For now, keep on saying “no straws, please” and consider your options carefully before you add to a problem that truly does suck.

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