I Tried Every Type of Non-Plastic Straw So You Don't Have To
The war on plastic straws is here, and you're going to need to know what your options are.
All photos by Liz Renstrom.
After Seattle became the first American city to ban disposable plastic straws, Starbucks announced that it also will eliminate single-use plastic straws from its stores by 2020, ostensibly to maintain its status as the Most Woke international coffee chain. The United States uses more straws each day than there are people in this country—hundreds of millions more!—so it’s mostly a positive thing that the country is wisening up to the indisputable fact that plastic straws are bad for the environment. (The ban may negatively impact people with disabilities who rely on disposable plastic straws—“People with disabilities have enough everyday problems without having the worries of where they are going to find the right kind of straws to drink with,” a disability activist explained to K5 News in Seattle.)
And yet, as problematic as it is, I love disposable plastic straws. Whether it’s my third energy drink of the day or a cool glass of chocolate milk, when I drink a beverage, I use a straw. (Important exceptions include water, seltzer, hot coffee, and non-alcoholic beer.) What’s the alternative to the quintessential plastic bendy straw? Picking up my cup and putting my mouth directly onto a cup, potentially sullying my face with a sticky beverage? Having a paper straw decay into my drink? Banging my teeth on a dangerous stainless steel tube? No thank you.
I’ve been aware of the fact that straws are bad ever since Adrian Grenier lectured a New York Magazine writer about the environmental dangers of the long plastic tubes. “We consume 500 million straws each day. The equivalent of 127 school buses filled with straws. It’s disgusting,” the Entourage star said in 2016. “There should be children in those school buses, going to school, to learn, not straws.” (Sure, buddy.)
I am by no means proud of my straw habit—as Ian Burke wrote for MUNCHIES, straws “kill fish and generally make marine life hell” and I love the fishies, I really do! But every day the average American consumer partakes in the slow destruction of the natural world in a multitude of ways, whether it be driving a fossil-fueled car, using a tampon, not unplugging your appliances when you’re not using them, or eating produce that was imported from halfway around the world. In the grand scheme of things, I tell myself, my personal straw usage is negligible, and as an individual consumer, there’s not much I can personally do to reverse the impending environmental apocalypse.
Ever since the eco-freaks of Seattle and Starbucks ignited an anti-straw trend throughout America—my hometown of New York City is also considering a straw ban—I can no longer avoid reckoning with my wasteful straw habit. So I tried every type of drinking tube I could get my hands on to see if there was something that could replace the perfect yet ruinous disposable plastic straw. Here are my rankings:
6. The Paper Straw
If we’re going to outlaw disposable plastic straws, we ought to do the same to paper straws. Whoever invented the paper straw ought to be tried by the Hague for crimes against humanity—the straw disintegrates quickly, which is a textural nightmare. Moreover, it makes your beverage taste like paper, which is unforgivable.
5. The Stainless Steel Straw
I hate this straw so much—I hate the way it feels on my teeth, I hate how it makes my mouth taste metallic, I hate how cold it is. When testing it out, I lowered my head to my glass of Guayaki Yerba Mate Sparkling Classic Gold, the energy drink I’m currently addicted to, and my mouth narrowly missed the metal tube, and the hard metal scraped my gum and tooth. In short, this straw is a death trap. Moreover, this cold hard straw lacks the softness that makes straws so great, meaning you can’t chew on it. And really, what’s more fun than chewing on a straw? (Don’t answer that.)
4. The Compostable Straw
This straw—which is, vaguely, “made from plants”—physically resembles a paper straw. It has a weird, papery flavor, but unlike its fast-disintegrating paper counterpart, it maintains its structure for longer and doesn’t permeate the flavor of your drink as intensely. It’s a bad straw, but not as bad as stainless steel or paper.
3. The Reusable Plastic Straw
This type of straw is basically a hard version of the classic bendy straw. Drinking from it, while not as enjoyable as its bendy and environmentally disastrous counterpart, was fine. I couldn’t help but wish it was more pliable, but it’s a lesser, although adequate, substitute for the straw I know and love. Still, I can’t help but wonder if replacing disposable plastic with reusable plastic will really solve the world’s straw problem.
2. The Silicone Straw
When I bought this straw, the cashier at the eco-friendly store told me that if I ever really wanted to get rid of, I should set it on fire. She told me that it will burn, and while I’m dubious of that claim—burning silicone seems like an intuitively bad idea—I didn’t want to try it out because I really didn’t mind it. It has the pliability that makes a straw so pleasurable to use and you can chew on it all you want. But using a silicone straw makes you feel like a baby using a sippy cup. With every sip, you regress to toddlerhood, glimmers of your inner child floating to the forefront of your psyche. The downside is that you have to suck way harder than you would with any other type of straw. But that should give some of your muscles a good workout? Maybe?
1. The Problematic Disposable Plastic Straw
There’s a reason people love this eco-disaster of a drinking tube so much—it really is superior to all other forms of straws. The bendiness, the casual delicacy of the straw make it the ideal drinking utensil. It’s wrong, but it still feels so good. And there’s nothing I can do about that, except disregard my hedonism and do what’s good for the world.