Straws are in the news a lot these days – it seems I’m not the only one dedicated to going straw-free, and single-use plastic straws are being phased out, swapped for more eco-friendly alternatives, or outright banned at many places.
- The city of Seattle, Washington, has outright banned plastic straws.
- The state of California is working to restrict straw distribution to request-only.
- Starbucks is planning to offer only biodegradable straws within two years
- Disney is dropping plastic straws from all its properties within a year.
- Royal Caribbean International is switching to paper straws by the end of the year.
Furthermore, different hotels, restaurants, fast food chains, and more are jumping on the no-straw trend. This is great news, but is it the best news? What about all the restaurants, bars, hotels, resorts, theme parks, and other establishments where straws are still easily and freely given? Most importantly, what about all the sippers – what about us?
Ah, you might say, but I’ve got a reusable straw. I’m okay, I’m doing the right thing.
Reusable straws aren’t the best answer, but why not? First, we’ll get the obvious out of the way. Yes, reusable straws are a better option than single-use straws. They do keep some of those straws out of landfills, and by extension, out of waterways, and out of the ocean. They are definitely more responsible than throwaway straws.
They aren’t, however, the best answer to the straw question. Reusable straws still contribute to packaging waste, energy consumption, and landfill detritus, depending on how they are used (or abused, as the case may be with knockoff straws and poor designs). But an even bigger problem with reusable straws is they only treat the symptom – the consumption of single-use, throwaway straws – rather than treating the dependence on those straws in the first place.
If, however, you go without straws completely, not only do you eliminate the waste entirely, from every angle, but you also…
- Teach restaurants and their staff that straws aren’t always necessary.
The more they have to take back unused straws (make sure you say “No straws, please!” rather than just leave them with the trash on your table), the more they will recognize that their loyal customers don’t want straws at all. As more restaurants (outside of huge corporations) learn, they can begin to offer straws only on request, order fewer for their establishment, or take further steps to go completely straw-free.
- Train yourself to drink comfortably without a straw.
If you always have a reusable straw and whip it out for every drink, how will you feel when you accidentally forget to carry it? Or maybe you forgot to clean it? Or it breaks and suddenly you’re without a straw? It could be far too easy to say “well, this time I’ll use a plastic straw” and suddenly you’re back in the bad straw habit. If you’re more comfortable without a straw, you’ll never worry when one isn’t available.
- Set an example to everyone around you.
Every time you turn down a straw, anyone drinking around you, and especially those in your party, will notice, but they won’t always notice that you’re using a reusable straw after you put it in your glass and start sipping along with everyone using plastic. Eventually, the idea of forgoing the throwaway straws can catch on, and you’ll be spreading a good influence one strawless beverage at a time.
This isn’t about one absolute answer for everyone (remember, Be Your Own Birder? Find the solution that works for you!) or about forgoing straws 100 percent of the time. There are absolutely times when straws, even single-use straws, are necessary and desirable. That, however, is a discussion for a different day (stay tuned!), as we all try to find ways to raise our glasses to bird conservation, environmental responsibility, and a cleaner, healthier planet – one less straw at a time.