The poor little innocuous plastic drinking straw is under attack in the war against pollution. The problem started when a 9-year-old did the math and computed that roughly 500 million straws are used in the US each day. No one knows if this number is too high or too low but that’s not the point. The issue is that these straws, which comprise only 0.025% of the plastic waste flowing into the oceans, are something most people can do without.
Most people can easily adapt to other types of straws, be they paper, metal, or silicone, or they can elect to just not use one at all. My disabled wife, J, is one person who may feel a negative impact from the demise of the plastic straw because of its bendy, flexible nature. The loss of this feature could just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Between J’s dysfunctional motor control and her problems with the aspiration of liquids. a flexible straw is the best way to keep her healthy and hydrated.
Our community along with an increasing number of towns and cities across the country and around the world are banning plastic straws. Even chains like Starbucks and McDonald’s are jumping on the bandwagon evaluating alternative cup caps and eco-friendly straw materials. I’m all for making even the slightest difference when it comes to doing something good for the environment, I’ve started my own non-scientific evaluation of plastic straw alternatives for J’s use.
Here a Straw, There a Straw …
We regularly encounter paper straws when we go to local establishments and I’ve bought a few brands to try at home. I’ve also bought an assortment of metal and silicone rubber straws for home use, and I’m always on the lookout for a cup that doesn’t require a straw that would fit J’s needs. There are also bamboo, wooden, reed, glass, copper, silly, Krazy, and hay straws that we haven’t tried — though we did have a glass straw until it broke. Here’s a summary of what I’ve discovered:
- Paper straws — I give paper straws a B- grade. Sure, they may – and I emphasize may be more environmentally friendly than plastic straws, but they get soggy too quickly. They aren’t flexible at all until they get soggy and I haven’t found any with a bend in them. The drinking end gets saturated and collapses especially when drinking hot liquids like coffee. (Yes, J drinks her coffee with a straw) Considering the environmental impact of making straws from paper isn’t well understood, and disposal of the now wet and possibly non-compostable waste means they may just end up in landfills anyway creating more pollution, I’m not convinced these are the best alternative — they may be the lesser of two evils.
- Metal straws – I give metal straws a C. Sure, they work pretty well for cold liquids but they are not recommended for hot liquids as they conduct heat. Plus they are difficult to clean and transport. The bend in them is useful but they tend to be too long to use comfortably and don’t fit all cups well. While unlikely, I think they are an eye-poke hazard, and I’m not sure how to dispose of them. Finally, I think they add an odd taste to some liquids. The good news is that they could last forever — wait, is that good news?
- Silicone straws – I give silicone straws an F. On the surface, silicone appears to be the best material as it’s flexible, inert, easily trimmed to an appropriate length and colorful, but it has one major flaw in being difficult to clean. I should have expected that issue when the straws I bought came with long metal (and plastic!) straw suitable pipe-cleaners. I’ve pretty much ignore these cleaners and just assumed that rinsing the straws out is sufficient. The problem is that you can’t see what’s growing inside your straw, because they are colorfully opaque, until it starts growing out of the straw. Something didn’t taste right so I got out the straw cleaner thingies and set out to clean the straws and boy, was I grossed out. Everyone of the straws needed to be scrubbed out which isn’t easy to do since the silicone likes to hold onto the cleaner. Maybe if manufacturers could produce clear silicone straws, their grade would improve to an A.
So Now What?
At this time, we don’t have a solution we’re happy with and we continue to work on J’s swallow capability so that she might be able to avoid straws altogether. Plastic flexible straws are still being sold around here so we’ve stocked up on a solid supply expecting that they will be our mainstay at home for the near future. We’ll minimize our use as best we can and try to dispose of them responsibly and not create more pollution until better alternatives appear. What are your straw stories?