Aside from the Kardashians' relationship statuses and celebrities getting engaged after a week of dating, straws have been the hottest topic of the summer. The small pieces of plastic have caused a ton of controversy as companies like Starbucks are eliminating them, cities are banning them, celebrities are advocating against them, and the hashtag #StopSucking has sprung up across the internet.
Why is everyone ditching plastic straws?
The ban on plastic straws is ultimately a small step to make oceans safer for marine life and to start more thoughtful conversations on how we consume plastic as a nation. Although there’s concern that the straw ban will work against those with disabilities who rely on them to drink—and there are larger plastic wastes like bags and bottles—it’s a step in the right direction. And I’m game for anything that challenges the ecological status quo.
Fun fact: I’ve actually been using reusable straws for years. Call me ahead of my time, but I found it cheaper and more ecological to have a set of metal straws for drinking drinks and a thick plastic one for drinking smoothies. But when it came to using straws out and about, I was still guilty of grabbing plastic ones at coffee shops and restaurants.
After testing out a variety of reusable straws, I decided to challenge myself to lug around my top pick, the Hummingbird Glass Straw, for two weeks to see how difficult dealing with a total disposable straw ban would be. I love the environment, I love the sea turtles, and this would be the first step to making reusable straws a habit in my daily life.
Life with a reusable straw
Transitioning to a plastic-straw-free life is no easy feat. Rather than carry one straw around all day, I made sure I had at least one straw in at my apartment and I left one in the office, so I could use it for my water and for whenever I wanted to get iced coffee. After lots of experimenting, this is honestly the easiest and most accessible way to incorporate reusable straws in your life—because there's always one when you need it.
The main issue with reusable straws is that you have to remember to carry one around, which is honestly more difficult than you might think. I would usually toss my reusable straw into my relatively clean purse (though some people opt to place them in pencil cases or baggies), which I'll admit isn't the most sanitary way to keep a straw around.
Each pack of reusable straws typically comes with a cleaning brush that I would use to wash my straws at home. But when I was out and about, running the straw under some water in the bathroom would have to suffice until I could sufficiently clean it at home.
There would also be those time I would forget my reusable straw. This meant I would have to forgo a straw for my iced coffee if I wasn't going home or to work, which wasn’t the end of the world but it was kind of sad being strawless.
Saying no to plastic straws
Also, as a very non-confrontational person, giving up plastic straws put me outside of my comfort zone. At restaurants, I would have to ask for no straw, but I also didn't want to inconvenience my server. Then, if my server brought one out of habit, I was faced with the ethical dilemma of choosing to forego using an already-opened straw that would now have to be thrown away or use it anyway since it's already there (I usually chose the latter).
At first, I felt awkward using my own straw out in public, but over time I grew more comfortable, and even proud, displaying my gorgeous glass straw in coffee shops and restaurants. Bringing along your own straw definitely takes some getting used to, but I’m hoping eventually it will become a habit for me, and for others too.
Luckily, some places are becoming more plastic-straw-free friendly. Most coffee shops won't hand you a straw, so you don't have to ask to forgo one, and some restaurants and bars are even supplying quality paper straws, which is still creating waste but is much better for the environment. And these shifts are making it much easier to consume a little less plastic every day.
What other people thought
Because of my big week of testing, everyone around the office knew what I was up to and didn’t question my reusable straw usage. In fact, I gave some of my extra straws away to a few coworkers for their iced coffee, which they’ve also enjoyed using.
I never received any comments from the strangers around me, but I could definitely tell that people were noticing my alternative straw choice. However, I did have to explain it to my friends when we went out, which sparked a thoughtful conversation about straws and our plastic usage. Some thought it was cool, but not everyone agreed with the straw ban, with some of my friends believing eliminating a small piece of plastic wouldn't help much.
I do believe that this conversation is just the beginning of becoming more conscious of our consumption in the future.
Continuing a disposable straw-free life
After this plastic-straw-free experiment, I've found a more reasonable way to keep up this endeavor. Carrying a reusable straw around is a nuisance and not the most sanitary. Instead, I’m going to try to remember to ask for no straw when I’m out because I can still enjoy a drink without one.
But there are still a few drinks I have to drink with a straw (i.e. iced coffee), so it's good to know I have a few at my home and the office. So far, it has become second nature to not grab a straw at the coffee shop, knowing I have a reusable one waiting for me in the office.
One of the biggest takeaways I got from going straw-free was how unnecessary they actually are for an able-bodied individual. When I drink a glass of water at home, I hardly ever use a straw nor do I really need one, but at a restaurant it’s expected, if not demanded, to have one for your drink. It’s become so ingrained in our society that we have to use a straw, and I think that's why I found it quite difficult to transition to not sipping from one.
The hope of a plastic straw ban is to have a domino effect on how we think about using other single-use plastic products like bags and bottles. I’ve been big on using reusable grocery bags and water bottles for the past few years, but switching to reusable straws has led me to think about how I can take things a step further.
If I’m bringing a reusable straw to a coffee shop, then I might as well lug around a reusable tumbler for my iced coffee too—as long as I can remember it.
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