The usefulness of plastic is nearly impossible to deny. Since its inception, the use of polymer based products has changed the face of nearly every industry, perhaps most notably the fields of medicine and automobile manufacturing. Without it we would still rely on glass to transport medical supplies and keep them sterile. Likewise, automobile safety would rely on metal instead of plastics which enhance passenger protection in the event of an accident. Along with those gains came some heavy ecological losses. Trash floats on top of the ocean in vast swaths, starving the ocean below of what it needs and providing an inedible confusing mess marine animals can unknowingly ingest.
With plastic straw bans popping up in cities and states all over and large corporations like Starbucks and Alaska Airlines changing their business practices to phase them out, it might seem they are major players in the plastic waste problem. In fact, a recent study found that up to 8.3 billion plastic straws coat the world’s coastlines. Despite the incomprehensible scale of that many plastics straws, they actually make up less than 1% of all the almost 9 million tons of plastic waste added to the ocean annually. Plastic straw bans alone won’t save the dolphins, but it’s hard to deny that simple changes could prevent us from adding to the billions of straws in the ocean.
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There are plenty of inexpensive reusable or biodegradable products available, making ditching the toxic single-use version relatively easy way to lean into more eco-friendly practices.
Plastic straw alternatives fall into four categories based primarily on what they are made of: stainless steel, glass, paper, and silicone. They also come in straight or bent varieties. Here’s a breakdown of each material along with are some well-rated products to help eco-conscious consumers curb their one-time use plastic obsession. The number of straws someone needs is personal and based upon how often you use a straw and if you’re willing to stop and clean it immediately or plan to throw it in the dishwasher.
Why Stainless Steel?
Stainless steel is a compound that’s long been used to make cutlery. The silverware most people have it their home is actually made of stainless steel because it doesn’t rust. It’s also non-porous so it doesn’t absorb smells or colors from the liquids you drink. While they have no taste, they do conduct heat. For an iced drink it might be a bonus but for hot coffee drinkers who sip with a straw, another alternative might be safer.
Foldable Straight Stainless Steel Straws: A two pack of foldable stainless steel straws that comes with two carrying cases to keep the straws clean between uses. This set also contains two cleaning brushes.
Telescoping Straight Stainless Steel Straw: This telescoping steel straw comes with a cleaning brush, carrying case, and removable silicone tips for soft sipping.
Bent Stainless Steel Straws : This set of 12 bent stainless steel straws comes with straws in five different colors along with two cleaning brushes.
If germs are a concern, glass straws might be the way to go. Glass can be heated to high temperatures without melting or getting distorted so it can be boiled and sterilized (think canning). Likewise, it’s usually clear so you can see if it’s clean or not. On top of being reusable, glass is recyclable and unlike most materials, it doesn’t lose quality with repeated recycling.
Bent Glass Straws: This set of six glass shatter-resistant straws are multi-colored, come shaped like a bendy straw, and include two cleaning brushes.
Straight Glass Straws: Like the bent version, this set of six colorful straws comes with two brushes for cleaning purposes.
Although silicone is synthetic, unlike say rubber which is naturally occurring, it eventually breaks down into its original components of silica (ie: sand), carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Silicone straws are made of food-safe silicone. That means the type of silicone they used to make them aren’t mixed with any other chemicals people shouldn’t put in their mouth unlike silicone based caulking or other industrial materials. It’s heat resistant so it can go in the dishwasher and even be boiled without getting wrecked.
Bent Silicone Straws: This pack of 10 multi-colored silicone straws comes with two cleaning brushes and a carrying case to keep them clean between uses. Although silicone is less hardy than stainless steel or glass since it is soft and can be chewed, it is an excellent alternative for kids or disabled people who might need a less rigid option for safety reasons.
Straight Silicone Straws: 12 Pack of straight silicone straws with two cleaning brushes and a carry pouch.
Mixed Silicone Straws: A mixed pack of 6 bent silicone straws and 6 straight silicone straws. Like the other silicone straw backs it comes with cleaning brushes and a carry pouch.
The main reason paper straws are an alternative to plastic ones is they eventually break down. Consumers can feel less guilty using paper because even though they are only made to be used one time and will end up in the landfill, they won’t stay there for hundreds or thousands of years. In fact most paper products decompose within six weeks of hitting the dump. They are even compostable and break down in as little as two weeks.
Paper straws: 500 pack of striped paper straws is a variety of colors.
Paper straws: 10 count pink polka dot paper straws for anyone not quite ready to go all in on the 500 pack.
Rachel Brandt is a writer living in Indianapolis with her three kids, two dogs, and husband. When she’s not writing you’ll find her mentally preparing for another Midwest winter, reading Harry Potter books to her kids, or binge watching Joss Whedon shows.