This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on March 15, 2021.
When I first started my zero waste journey, the zero waste world was filled with messages about straws. That video of the sea turtle with a straw in its nose was everywhere. Everyone was talking about how here in the US we use half a billion (yes, with a B) every day. Plastic straw bans were starting to make their appearance, reusable straws were popping up in restaurants, and “straws will only be given upon request” signs were slowly becoming a thing.
It was big news, y’all.
In fact, my first-ever video - from way back in the day when A Drop in the Ocean was nameless and I was making YouTube videos - was all about No Straw November and why it’s so important to refuse straws.
Today, the zero waste world I see has transformed in such a beautiful way. It’s become less about straws and more about climate change solutions, systemic changes, and intersectionality with social justice.
But, I’m deep in this world. I’m no longer seeking out every piece of information I can get my hands on. I’m intentional about the voices I listen to, and I’ve done my own research and formed my own views. (Those views are, in short, “it’s complicated.”)
In general, though, we do still see straw messaging as the gateway swap to a more sustainable lifestyle, which is great! Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, right?
And while I do believe that we’ve overplayed the straw card, it’s still an important topic.
Because, yo, those 500,000,000 straws every day add up. FAST.
So if you’re new to the zero waste and sustainable lifestyle, here’s what you need to know about straws.
They’re Not Recyclable
Yeah...that’s about all there is to say about that one. Especially if they’ve been used, plastic straws are completely unrecyclable, relegated to the trash bin. And because they’re so lightweight, they’re super easy to get caught up in a gust of wind and blown into the wild. So, straw disposal sucks.
Once They’re on Your Table, They’re Trash
Many a time I’ve been told “I don’t ask for no straw, I just don’t use them when they’re given to me.” Problem is, once that straw touches your table at a restaurant, it’s trash. They can’t pick that unused straw back up after you leave and give it to someone else, even if it’s wrapped. (And would you really want them to?)
By not asking for no straw upfront, you’re not voicing your desire for less plastic straws in the first place. (AKA reducing demand for more plastic straws to be made.) And we need people speaking up to make change happen.
When I was living in Ohio, there was a restaurant I loved to visit pretty regularly. The first several times I went, I noticed that they always brought glasses of water with straws when they came to greet the table. I got really good at asking right away for no straw because I knew it was coming.
After a few months, I sat down at the same restaurant, and asked for a water with no straw. The server paused, looked at me confused, and said “We don’t use......okay.” As she walked away I looked at my boyfriend at the time and said “Was she really about to tell me they don’t use straws? We’ve been here enough to know they do.”
And then after she brought our drinks, strawless, I looked around. There wasn’t a straw in sight.
I’m not naive enough to think I was the reason for the change, but I do believe I was part of it. I believe enough people asked for no straw that it created a demand to eliminate them whenever possible.
It was beautiful.
So, if you don’t really need a straw, get in the habit of asking for “water with no straw, please.”
And remember - even if you still get one, because that happens, your voice still matters. Over time, our voices make change. Even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment.
Reusable Straws Use Resources, Too
This is why plastic isn’t always the problem. If we’re swapping one unnecessary plastic item with another unnecessary reusable item, are we really living that much lighter on the planet?
Don’t get me wrong - I love my glass straw. With the weather getting warmer, frappuccino season is upon us. And frappuccinos are a straw’s best friend. But I don’t need a drawer full of reusable straws when there’s really just one drink I need them for.
Last month we talked all things sustainable jewelry, and the impacts of metal mining for jewelry are going to be the same for metal straws.
Not so hot.
And did you know we’re actually running out of sand? Glass and silicone are made from sand, and we’re rapidly running out of it. So glass and silicone straws that are just gonna collect dust in a drawer aren’t the answer, either.
So, my friend, if you need a straw, for any reason, there are options.
But if you’re like me and don’t really need a straw to begin with, just start with “water with no straw, please.” And when that frappuccino craving starts to hit, choose one or two straws you really love, and care for them.
Have you gotten into the habit of asking for no straw yet? What’s your experience been like? Have you noticed any restaurants making changes as a result? Share your experience in the comments!
(PS we’ll talk more about that sand shortage and impacts of glass soon, so stay tuned 😉)
Sending you all my best, friend.