Ever thought about what happens to disposable plastic straws when they’re no longer useful?
I have and what I found was not heart-happy information. I found out most straws end up in the ocean to be broken down and eaten by sea creatures. Finding this information sparked an interest in me to look for more ecological options. I found that the company I’ve been buying bamboo toothbrushes from also sells bamboo straws! What an exciting concept.
Natural and biodegradable straws are not new ideas though.
History of the Drinking Straw
Straws made of rye were utilized in history by beer drinkers to filter out fermented particles. They were thin and resemble our hot beverage straws today. Natural drinking straws were used in many cultures until paper straws became produced. Paper straws were the start to disposable straws. After about 30 years of making paper straws, production material shifted to almost entirely plastic which is more durable. Today there is paper, plastic, candy, cereal, metal, glass, and bamboo straws to name a few.
Why Even Use A Straw?
Straws can be seen as a more sanitary approach to drinking as opposed to putting lips on the rim of bottles and cans which frequent an unknown amount of human contact. Straws offer convenience, by either by keeping one from tipping a glass to get to the bottom or by bringing the drink closer to one’s mouth with minimal effort. Deferring cold liquid from sensitive teeth or certain areas of the mouth is also a benefit.
There are some downsides to using straws too. Puckering your lips to sip from a straw may lead to fine lines and wrinkles around your mouth, in the same way, smoking a cigarette would. Drinking from a straw can cause you to bloat by sucking in extra air.
Plastic Straws are not Ecological
Plastic straws are made from petroleum which creates a higher demand for oil and gas extraction and electricity to power the plastic production. More so, the need for gas is increased to ship materials from plastic manufacturers to straw makers and finally to get the finished product to the consumer. This adds up to more carbon emissions and pollution from all the industrial processes and transport that happens repeatedly due to the nature of the product being “disposable” and having to be constantly replenished.
So What Really Happens to Disposable Plastic Straws when they are ‘Disposed’
Americans use 500 MILLION disposable plastic straws every day. To put that number in perspective, if you lined all those straws up end to end it would be enough to circle around the Earth two and a half times per day.
You might have heard this once before but every piece of plastic ever produced, whether recycled or not is still in existence. In 2010, eight million tons of plastic trash ended up in the ocean from coastal countries. Of this plastic trash, straws and stirrers are among the top 10 marine plastic debris found during coastal cleanups.
It is estimated that 90% of individual seabirds, many whales and dolphins and some sea turtles have ingested plastic, including straws. Ocean plastic eventually breaks into smaller fragments, gradually working it’s way up the food chain, which concentrates toxic chemicals in predators on the top. Don’t forget for those of you still eating sea creatures and sea mammals, humans are not immune to these toxins.
In 2014, a global analysis measured ocean plastic at a quarter of a billion metric tons, much of it suspended in small rice-sized particles. More than 200 animal species have been documented consuming plastic, including turtles, whales, seal, birds, and fish. Seabirds are especially at risk; a study published last year by scientists in Australia concluded that virtually all seabirds have consumed plastic.
What Can We Do About this Plastic Pollution?
To combat this pollution and take more control of our own health, we could avoid straws all together, or we could switch to a better alternative. A compostable, biodegradable material from a natural source that grows quickly and is inexpensive ($1/straw). Bamboo!
These straws are easy to clean with some warm soapy water or a mix of vinegar and water swished through and then allowed to dry upright. You could also wash them next to your utensils in your dishwasher. These straws will last many years. Unlike with glass or metal straws, they can be dropped without worry of damage or breaking.
The straws from brushwithbamboo.com are made from real whole bamboo stalks – nothing re-compressed or processed.
To stay consistent with my personal beliefs of producing minimal waste and doing the best I can for my body and Earth, I will continue to chose to either decline the use of straws or use my new bamboo straws instead. You should think about it too.
This was more information than I had intended on writing but I hope you enjoyed it. The next post on GrateFull Eats, which I’ll publish in a few days, will take an in-depth look at plastic and bamboo toothbrushes the way this post did for straws.
Namaste and thanks for reading!
From my heart to yours, Jessa