I like to consider myself a sustainable queen. I bring reusable bags to the grocery store, I carry around my reusable water bottle wherever I go, and you better believe I’m packing my lunch with reusable sandwich bags.
When the drama of the plastic straw ban happened last year, I raced to test out the best reusable straws on the market to find an alternative that worked well, was portable, and didn’t contribute to destroying the environment (especially the sea turtles). But there’s one sustainable material I will never sip from: paper straws. Why? They suck—pun intended.
Why do paper straws suck?
My first (and last) experience sipping from a paper straw was disappointing, to say the least. I was in a local coffee shop and was excited to see that they had sustainable options and only offered paper straws, no plastic in sight. That excitement faded quickly after I took my first sip. Paper straws have this bizarre, almost rubbery mouthfeel to them followed by the taste of wet paper. Not great.
At first I thought I could get over the slightly unpleasant taste for the sake of the environment, but it just continued to get soggier and the wet paper taste became more prevalent. Even worse, the straw became a limp wad of paper about 10 minutes into drinking my iced coffee. Not only was it very uncomfortable to drink from, but it wasn’t strong enough to get around the ice, so I couldn’t get the last drop.
I ended up ditching both the plastic lid and the straw to finish my drink by sipping from the rim, which is honestly what I should have done in the first place when I spotted the paper straws.
Not be dramatic, but paper straws are an abomination. I firmly believe that they should be banned along with plastic straws. As much as I love doing what I can to help the environment, there’s nothing I hate more than a paper straw. The horrible texture, weird taste, and inevitable uselessness are all reasons to avoid them.
And I’m not alone in feeling this way. There are entire Reddit threads dedicated to being anti-paper straws, and my coworker even messaged me today to rant about her own horrible experience with them. Honestly, if I had the choice between a paper straw and no straw, I would go no straw every time, which I think is the best option in this whole debacle.
Are paper straws even sustainable anyway?
Paper straws come with good intentions. The whole idea is to reduce the use of disposable plastic. But these bad-tasting drinking tools, unfortunately, still contribute the exact problem they’re trying to solve. They’re still creating single-use waste, even though they only take up two months to compost and six months to break down in saltwater, which is so much less than its plastic counterparts that can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.
While paper straws are a vastly more sustainable option compared to plastic straws, they’re still not 100% green. Plus, if you’re replacing a soggy paper straw for each drink at a bar or restaurant—which you’ll need to do since they get so gross so fast—that waste can really add up.
The better option is to always bring your own reusable straw or (again) just avoid straws altogether.
Do you even need a straw?
Now, I’m all about the zero-waste movement and attempting to reduce single-waste consumption, but I can’t argue that is challenging to remember to bring reusable items with you wherever you go. When I attempted to forego disposable straws for two weeks, I found that more often than not I didn’t have my reusable straws when I wanted them. But it was honestly easier to skip straws entirely than remember a metal straw or subject myself to the taste of paper (shudder).
Personally, when I’m at home, I rarely need straws, but I do keep a few reusable ones around just in case I’m feeling wild with my water. Aside from specific drinks like frappuccinos, smoothies, and bubble tea, there are really few drinks that actually require a straw to enjoy. We have just come to expect straws when we go out to bars and restaurants. However, I’ve found that cocktails (especially a good marg with salt) taste even better when sipped directly from the glass.
If you’re a straw person, I get it. It would be annoying to order an iced coffee to-go without a straw, but that’s what reusable tumblers can be used for instead. Plus, these do a much better job at eliminating waste than just subjecting yourself to a paper straw, which is what the whole straw ban movement is about, right? Becoming more mindful about your single-use consumption starts small by removing something like a plastic straws and finding a better replacement or eliminating them entirely.
Just don’t use a paper straw. You’ll regret it, I promise.