Be Your Own Birder

How to Say No to Straws

It’s no secret that straws have become a hot-button issue related to single-use plastic and a throwaway society that contributes to far too much litter in the environment. I made the personal decision to largely eliminate straws from my life this year, and have done so with a great deal of success, though no one’s perfect. Occasionally, a straw will slip in before I have the chance to deflect it. As I’ve talked with others about skipping the straw, I’ve found that the most common complaint is that straws may be handed out liberally and automatically, so how can you stop using something that is just assumed you always want? How do you say no to straws, without coming across as rude, pushy, disrespectful, or forcing an agenda on others?

No Straw, Please!

No Straw, Please! – Photo by Aqua Mechanical

It’s not as hard as you may think to say no, but it does take some finesse, especially in situations where straws are a foregone conclusion and automatic accessory. There are three ways you typically get a straw…

  1. You choose your own straw from a dispenser.
  2. You are given a wrapped straw alongside your drink order.
  3. The straw is placed in your drink before you receive it.

If you are to choose your own straw, whether the dispenser is at your table, on the bar, or at some other central location with napkins and condiments, it’s easy enough to avoid the straw – you simply don’t take one. Because the dispenser is there for many patrons to use, there is no extra trash or waste because you don’t use a straw, and there are no awkward moments with other patrons or servers.

If you are given a wrapped straw with your drink (but not immersed in the beverage), it is slightly trickier. You could say nothing, and simply not use the straw. While this does mean you haven’t used the straw, you haven’t exactly cut down on the waste and trash that plastic straws create – when the table is cleared after you leave, the straw (still wrapped) will likely be discarded, and could end up causing the same environmental problems as its unwrapped, used cousins. While some bars and restaurants may collect these unused straws to redistribute to other patrons, that is unlikely, given the risk of tampering and the possibility that the wrapper has been compromised. To avoid this trash, you will need to say “No straws, please” to the server or bartender as they are placing the straw on your table – at that point, they can return it to their pocket, bin, or other private dispenser to be reused, since they know it is not contaminated.

If a straw is already placed in your drink when you receive it, the damage is done and the straw cannot be returned. You could choose to simply use the straw after all, but that doesn’t help you break the straw habit or convey the message that straws aren’t needed or wanted to bar or restaurant staff, other customers, or your companions. A better option is to let your server or bartender know that you don’t want a straw with your next drink – politely, of course! The next time you order a drink at that bar or restaurant, be sure to say “No straw!” as you place your order so you can avoid that unwanted bit of plastic. Servers may not always remember, but the more regular you are as a customer and the more consistent you are with not wanting straws, the more your message will be received and noticed.

No matter what, it is important to always be polite. Don’t get upset or angry if you accidentally receive a straw, and be ready to give a short explanation if asked why you prefer not to have straws – I’ll simply say “there’s no need for more plastic trash!” or something like that, in a friendly tone, and every time the server has understood and nodded along. I’ve even been thanked for refusing straws, as many servers are required to offer them at all times, regardless of their own personal preferences.

If you’re shy, or don’t like making more work for servers, or just don’t want to draw attention to yourself, it can be difficult to speak up and say you don’t want straws. With practice, however, saying “No straws, please” will become a standard part of your typical drink order, and it won’t be difficult at all to eliminate this customary plastic from your life.

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