Reusable Straws: How Plastic Impacts Our Environment

What’s the Deal with Reusable Straws and How Can We Use Them to Spearhead the Protection of Our Environment

It's amazing how something that seems so insignificant may be the catalyst for a major rehab for the way we handle our environmental issues. If you've caught sight of any media releases on your newsfeeds or your favorite news sources, you may have heard that states, such as California and Washington, and major corporations, such as Starbucks and American Airlines, have raged a war on plastic straws. Those same news sources will also tell you that only nine percent of the more than eight billion tons of plastic we use every day gets recycled.

Of course, other news sources will let you know that only 0.025 percent of the more than eight billion tons of plastic that flows into our oceans every year comes from plastic straws. So, what's with the hatred towards our slender drink companions?

The Materials Used to Make Straws

It’s important that we break down the modern materials used to make straws. In the 1800’s, ryegrass was used to make “straws”, but consumers quickly found out that it would turn to mush as soon as it hit liquid. In the late 1800’s, Marvin C. Stone invented a paper straw, since the melting ryegrass would completely change the taste of his mint julep. He coated his straws in wax to minimize disintegration of the paper and glue that held them together. However, it wasn’t until the mid 1900’s that Milton Dinhofer would create the polyethylene straw for mass production, and this plastic, in addition to other non-biodegradable plastic variations, is still widely used today.

Here’s the problem with polyethylene; although it can be produced from renewable resources, it is mainly created using petroleum or natural gas, which causes further air and water pollution. What’s more, polyethylene is also not readily biodegradable, meaning it can spend centuries in a landfill before it actually starts to decompose. Another scary fact? In 2017, more than 100 million tonnes of polyethylene was used, accounting for 34 percent of the plastics market. Think of all of that plastic heading to landfills and piling up for the unforeseeable future.

Why Can’t Plastic Just Be Recycled?

Although polyethylene and other plastics are non-biodegradable, they can be recycled. In fact, it is more cost-efficient to produce a product from recycled plastic than it is to manufacture new plastic, but that doesn’t mean people are quick to recycle. A study published in Science Advances provides staggering data about what happens to plastic once consumers are finished with it. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of mass-produced plastic, 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste. Only 9% of that plastic waste has been recycled, meaning 79% of the plastic produced has been left to reside in landfills and our oceans. Researchers predict that, by mid-century, the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish, ton for ton.

Not recycling boils down to the people utilizing the products. The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability found that there are a variety of reasons people do not recycle, including it’s too confusing, it’s too much work, and it isn’t mandated. For those that do recycle, they may not even think to recycle straws, since they are so thin, lightweight, and inconspicuous. For the straws that do make it into the recycling bin, some may not make it through the mechanical recycling sorter and either pollute the recycling load or still end up in landfills or oceans.

Can This One Small Change Really Make a Difference?

Since so little of our plastic waste comes from plastic straws, many may feel that opting for a reusable alternative won’t really make a dent into the garbage problems we face. However, it's all about taking that initial step towards becoming better at taking care of our environment.

Take one look at The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and you'll understand just how big of a waste problem we have. Go a bit further and see the turtle that changed the opinions of many when it comes to the use of plastic straws and you can see just how much that waste affects our marine life. Plastic straws are not something we actually need, even if they make it convenient for restaurants to provide a service to consumers, so why not start with something that is more of a luxury (in most cases) and choose reusable straws?

You may find that by switching to any of the reusable materials now being used to make straws, such as aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium, you may be prompted to incorporate these alternatives, and many others, in other aspects of your daily life.

Stainless steel tumblers, reusable water bottles, glassware, and mugs are wonderful drinkware alternatives to plastic bottles, especially since major corporations have still not made plans to reduce the use of plastic cups.

Reusable bags are also a great way to positively impact our environment. Grocery stores, such as Kroger's, are putting plans into action to slowly eliminate the use of plastic bags in their stores. Kroger's is planning to completely ditch their plastic bags by 2025, but you can help get the momentum started early by opting for reusable bags for your produce, groceries, lunch, and other items.

The Green Education Foundation lists a variety of other ways you can use less plastic, including buying boxes instead of bottles, reusing containers, using matches instead of lighters, and much more.

Reusable Straws Taking the Promo Industry By Storm

With the push for our environment becoming higher on everyone’s list of priorities, an increasing number of companies have started choosing reusable straws and other reusable items as their promotional products. Such is the case that promotional products suppliers are having a hard time keeping reusable straws in stock. Stainless steel straw sets, silicone straw key chains, and retractable straws, as well as tumblers and sports bottles with straws are just a few examples of reusable promotional products that are in high demand.

By opting for these items, clients get high-quality straws they can use again and again and companies will know their logo is beautifully engraved on the side of the straw and imprinted on its accompanying pouch, letting their clients know the company stands for eco-friendly and sustainable means for achieving success.

Join the many countries and cities throughout the world that have banned single-use plastics and reduce your carbon footprint by opting for reusable products. Even if you just start with reusable straws, you may find that it will lead you to many other ways of reducing your plastic waste.

By: Arelys Alexander with Blueberry Ink.