By Katherine Kartis

I f*cking hate straws.

Plastic straws are either made of polystyrene (#6 plastic which has been shown to be carcinogenic and mutagenic), polypropylene (#5 plastic), or polyethylene (#2). Not only are plastic straws toxic, BPA-laden (BPA disrupts endocrine function), and essentially pointless, (you don’t really need a straw to enjoy a beverage) they’re oftentimes non-recyclable or rarely recycled. 

Some people are under the impression that if a material is made of plastic, it can and will be recycled. The truth about plastic recycling is much more complex. Even though plastics #5 and #2 are recyclable, most people don’t put them in with recyclables, and most bars and restaurants don’t recycle them.

Americans use over five-hundred million plastic straws per day. So where do these hundreds of millions of toxic straws end up? In oceans and landfills, never to be used for their original intended purpose again.

But some people love straws, and that’s okay, there are just better options. If you do prefer to sip your iced latte through something to keep pearly whites from getting stained, there are non-plastic, reusable options such as metal, bamboo and compostable paper straws. Be proactive and BYOS (bring your own straw) whenever you go out to eat or grab a drink.

But if you’re down to say NO to straws overall to fight the soft plastic crisis, here’s some info to get you started.

  • Be proactive. It’s crucial to request and emphasize “no straw” as you’re ordering your drink, not after it arrives. If everyone in America said no to a single use straws for just one day (on average about 1.5 straws per person) we would prevent 500 MILLION STRAWS from going to landfill.
  • Offer a brief explanation for why you are requesting “no straw”. For example, I like to say, “Could you please ask the bartender to withhold a straw? I am trying to be eco-friendly and avoid single-use plastic” or you can be a little edgier and say “OMG DID YOU SEE THAT TURTLE VIDEO WITH THE STRAW IN ITS BEAK! I saw it and I’m trying to not use plastic straws”. A very brief anecdote will place a slightly greater sense of responsibility on the person taking your order.
  • Be courteous. Always request, do not demand. Ask nicely with a smile and let the wait staff know you appreciate their attention to detail and flexibility with your eco-friendly request. Your gratitude will encourage them to hopefully make sure they don’t mess up your order by bringing your drink with a straw.
  • Be fearless. If you sound timid or unsure of yourself when requesting “no straw” you might be met with an eye roll, smirk, or confused look. Instead, if you confidently give a disclaimer like “we are a zero waste table, so we kindly ask for no straws with our drinks this evening” you will instead garner a more positive reaction. (Trust me, I’ve done it, it works, and often it impresses the rest of your table!)

During my birthday dinner out in NYC, I proudly stated at the start of the meal, “we are a zero waste table and are excited to celebrate my birthday without any plastic. Could you ensure our cocktails do not come with straws?” The staff was delighted, and there were no accidental straws or misunderstandings. If you are at a more old-school, casual, or tourist-trap establishment, beware. You will need to be more vigilant and possibly reiterate at the start and end of the ordering process that it’s important to you to have no straw.

Think of it this way, if you had a food allergy you wouldn’t mess around with your health and would boldly state your custom request. Asking to avoid the toxins of plastic and the environmental impact they cause is your right.

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8 comments

  1. I just looked back my uses of straws and I just realized I have been using sooooooooo many straws that I don’t really need to use !!
    So I decided not to use a single straw when I have a drink outside. Also, I watched a youtube video of Lucie Fink from refinery 29, showing us her five days of no trash, and I learned a lot from it!
    Actually I’ve always wanted to start minimalized lifestyle and i think the tips from the video were so useful!
    Thanks for sharing tips!

    1. Keep up the good work! The Trash is for Tossers youtube channel has a bunch of videos to help you get started out with your zero waste lifestyle!
      Thanks for the support!

  2. Whenever I drink straight from the glass at a restaurant my friends and family comment on how disgusting that is and tell me to use a straw.

    I believe they say that because people put their hands on the glass and they don’t trust the dishwashers to have cleaned it right.

    How do I respond?

    1. Hey Marisol,

      That just be super annoying to hear. First, you should not care what your friends and family have to say about you drinking without a straw. To answer your question, you could respond with “If you’re concerned about the germs from the rim of the glass, imagine all the toxins and chemicals you’re ingesting every time you use a plastic straw.”

      You can also remind them that thousands of people drink directly from the glass without a straw and do not get sick or die as a result from these “germs.” We need to be exposed to some germs regularly to strengthen our immune systems and fight off illness more quickly. If they are that afraid of catching germs, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are regularly using hand sanitizer which ironically makes people more susceptible to catching contagious germs due to its main ingredient, triclosan.

      Remember, everyone will always have an opinion. You can remind them how silly it is to freak out about getting sick from drinking directly from the glass and it is not very adult like or classy to use a plastic straw in the first place.

    2. You could also point out that they are eating off forks and spoons that were cleaned in the same commercial dishwasher as the glass.

      Commercial dishwashers use much hotter water than household versions. The restaurant dishes are almost certainly cleaner than the ones in your cupboard.

      These people are suffering from something called “selective squeamishness”.

  3. My goal for 2017 was to reduce my plastic waste, which started with single-use disposables. It will always be a work in progress, but your website and helpful tips make it easier! And super chic ;). One thing I will never, ever use again is plastic straws. I saw this video on Youtube once about researchers who found a sea turtle with a whole straw embedded in it’s nose, and they spent a long time trying to pry it out. They eventually extracted it, but it was just so sad to watch. After seeing that, I vowed to stop using straws and start remembering the ocean. Our actions have greater impacts we might never know.

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