Metal straws have been around for longer than you think but really came into the spotlight after a viral video of a sea turtle getting a plastic straw pulled out of its nose. The video made its way all over social media and showed the horrible extent of the plastic in our oceans and how it affects marine wildlife. But instead of people rethinking all of the plastic in their lives, they only seemed to rethink one: plastic straws. Since that video, the market for sustainable alternatives to plastic straws has become mainstream and they are all over sites like Amazon and Etsy, and even in big box stores like Walmart and Target.
I think one of the biggest things that grinds my gears about the whole metal/glass/bamboo straw trend is that the average consumer doesn’t even really need straws in the first place. There are people who do need to drink out of straws for medical reasons, and I’m not talking about them because there is no way that they can control that aspect of their lives. But for everyday consumers, a straw is just a luxury that we really don’t need in our lives.
When it comes to my reusable drinkware that I have for more of my coffee and tea, they are just normal lidded cups that you slide open and shut. I do own a few reusables that have a straw in them, but they were almost all gifted to me and I don’t use the regularly. When it comes to eating at a restaurant, I tell them that I don’t need a straw for my drink because I am completely fine with just drinking from the cup like I would at home.
My problem with the average consumer buying these reusable straws is the fact that there are not a lot of times when they will be able to use it in everyday life outside of their own drinkware. Let me explain.
I think that the influx of plastic straws in the world comes from restaurants, fast food, and coffee shops. In restaurants, you can tell them that you would not like a straw and there is usually a 50/50 chance that the server will remember and not give you that straw in my experience. You can bring your reusable straw in your purse or a bag, or there are even collapsible ones on keychains, and use that for your drink if you’d like (I still posit the question of why you absolutely need a straw in your drink).
With fast food places, if you order a drink that isn’t a regular coffee, you are going to get a straw. I’m surprised that a lot of fast food places didn’t make changes after the viral turtle video because even I thought that they could cut plastic straws from the whole equation and just put drinking lids like the ones they have on coffees onto the pop cups. Yes, those lids are also plastic, but better have one instance of plastic than having a lid and a straw. I’ve tried and asked for no straw with my drinks at places like McDonald’s, but either they never hear me or they just put the straws into the bag in a force of habit. I end up not using the straw and I just take the lid off and drink it like it’s a regular cup.
Coffee places are better with straws, but in most places, if you get anything iced or cold, they have a separate cup, lid, and straw that they use. The thing that is redeeming about coffee places is that you can usually bring in your own cup and get a discount for doing that.
Another huge problem in the reusable straw market is companies and brands that hopped on the bandwagon to try and make money off of the trend. There were lots of brands that are terrible for the environment slapping their logos on reusable straws in an effort to make it look like they cared about the environment to get some good PR. The average consumer probably didn’t care that this was happening, but companies greenwash themselves and products all the time doing stuff like this and are hardly ever held accountable because there are not FTC regulations for certain words like eco-friendly and sustainable, meaning companies can basically put those words on anything and they don’t have to prove their claim.
I think metal straws have their place in the zero waste movement, and I’m happy that people who never thought about sustainability started with these straws, but my problem is much more with how much of a trend it became because of that sea turtle video and not larger discussion on the total impact of plastic in our oceans, not just plastic straws.
So what do you think about the reusable straws? Are they worth it?