Which Eco-Straw is the Greatest?
We all know plastic straws are bad and we all know the reasons, so I’ll skip that bit. But something worth exploring is which of the other options is the best alternative? and why? All are better options than plastic, but some are less eco-friendly and sustainable than they might at first appear.
Option #1 - No Straw
Straws aren’t a necessary item for most of us. A bold statement to read on a blog for a company selling bamboo straws for sure, but it’s true and can’t be ignored.
They are needed for some people with a disability, but for the majority of us, we can manage without.
why do we even use straws in the first place?
1. Hygiene – Especially if drinking out of a can or bottle without pouring into a glass. Who knows the journey that can/bottle has taken, where it’s been stored and how clean it is before touching your lips?
2. Conditioning – Straws keep the lips dry when drinking and dry lips are an indication to the brain of thirst. You can drink without having one of the key indicators that tells you, you’ve just drunk something, and as such you drink more. Inevitably, companies selling drinks, want you to keep buying drinks and straws make the perfect accompaniment.
3. Ease and Convenience – Yes, whilst lifting a drink to our mouth isn’t the most demanding of tasks, the brain loves anything that makes life that fraction easier, particularly for common and repetitive tasks. Straws also reduce the risk of spilling so if we’re in a nice white shirt we might feel that bit more comfortable using a straw (particularly if you’re as clumsy as I can be!)
4. Appearance – Straws help staining liquids move past the teeth which are on display, keeping them nice and clean. You don’t need to show anyone an ‘I just had a beetroot smoothie’ smile. They also keep lipstick from smudging. They’ll make sure you never walk into a meeting with a frothy coffee moustache.
So, straws are not completely useless and not completely necessary. Chances are, there’s sufficient reason that straws in general are not going away for good any time soon, and so we need a replacement that works.
Nevertheless, no straw if you can do it is a pretty great way to go and guarantees no environmental impact.
I give 'No-Straw' a score of 9/10.
Option #2 - The Paper Straw
These come across as the obvious eco-alternative and have become one of the most common. But they may be deceptive as they carry a few red flags worth considering.
Paper straws can still harm wildlife if they wind up in the ocean.
Their production process is actually more energy intensive than the production of plastic straws.
They still promote a single-use item.
Do we really have to use something once and throw it away?
Everything we do leaves a carbon-footprint, but shipping hundreds of thousands of paper straws around the world to be used once for 10 minutes and thrown out, is not efficient or sustainable. Yes, it’s still a lot better than plastic, but being one step up from the worst polluter, isn’t a whole lot of credit.
I give the Paper Straw a score of 4/10.
Option #3 - Stainless Steel Straw
Stainless steel is a great material. It’s often made from recycled metals and it is recyclable. It’s also super durable, a single stainless-steel straw can last you a lifetime, presuming you don’t lose it.
Pretty cool, and a solid contender for the title of best eco-straw, but not quite there.
Just because something can be recycled, doesn’t necessarily mean it will be recycled. A metal straw isn’t the most practical item to repurpose. The process of becoming stainless steel is to prevent it from oxidizing, thus preventing degradation.
Your stainless-steel straw will outlive you a great number of times over and isn’t exactly the kind of item that is going to wind up passed down through generations as a family heirloom.
This leaves the question of what happens when you’re done with it? Either it gets recycled, or it becomes landfill for centuries.
I give the Stainless Steel Straw a score of 7/10.
Option #4 - The Glass Straw
Glass straws are made from borosilicate glass, which became popular under the brand “Pyrex”. It’s stronger than you’d imagine and doesn’t shatter in the way regular glass does.
It can also tolerate higher temperatures and feels nicer to the touch than a metal straw (although this is a personal preference, it appears to be a common one).
What’s the catch? Well, it can still break, and when it does, it stays that way for an awfully long time.
Regular glass can take over a million years to biodegrade, and borosilicate glass is reinforced for strength and longevity.
The best thing you can do with glass is re-use it, but that becomes pretty difficult with a broken straw.
I give the Glass Straw a score of 6/10.
#5 - The Bamboo Straw
Save the best to last... the winner, the warrior, the hero, the landslide victor in the battle of the eco-straws.
OK, I might have gone a bit over the top there. But there are just so many more positives about the bamboo straw than any other, and it's hard to find any negatives.
You may have noticed a common theme throughout. To consider how environmentally-friendly something is, we must consider the entire life cycle of the product from creation to degradation, and its' impact along that road.
Let’s take a closer look at the life of a bamboo straw:
Growing & Harvesting
- Bamboo can be grown, quickly, easily, organically, as part of a polyculture.
- Bamboo is the only material needed to make a bamboo straw.
- Bamboo is the highest oxygen producer and among the highest carbon absorbers of all plants.
- When you harvest bamboo the stems beneath it grow. You don’t need to replant, you don’t need to churn soil, you don’t need chemicals.
Success = Plant + (Grow + Harvest)²
Production of a Bamboo Straw
Stay with me on this one, as I take you on a journey through the complexities of bamboo straw production:
Step 1: Get the right strain of bamboo.
Step 2: Cut it into lengths.
Step 3: Naturally treat it.
Step 4: Sun Dry it.
Yup. That’s it. No complex changes of chemical structures, no chromium (stainless steel), no boron trioxide (glass), no mining, no transport of multiple materials, no smelting furnaces, no burning of fossil fuels to power a production plant. Just cut, clean, dry, done.
Once packed and ready to leave our workshop, our bamboo straws embark on a journey to their buyers through air or sea freight, like any other product, leaving their own carbon footprint, like any other product.
The difference is, bamboo has already offset its carbon footprint. Bamboo is one of the fastest plants at pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and it's already been doing this job for a few years before it became a straw.
Once the bamboo straw makes its way to a happy owner, it usually lasts for around 1-2 years of daily usage. Not as long as a glass or metal straw, but this difference becomes important in the following stage. Like all alternatives, the best usage feature is that it replaces the use of plastic straws. It looks great, feels great and it makes a statement about being more eco-conscious without having to say a word.
Products that won’t be used forever need to decompose in a reasonable time, without harming the environment. Recycling is fantastic, but a point that bares repeating; not everything that can be recycled, will be recycled. If it is recycled, it still has to be collected and processed and this too takes energy.
Paper straws take the win on the race to decompose with just 6 weeks of decomposition. Bamboo straws take approximately 6 months. But if you factor this against the amount of times the straw is used before decomposition, bamboo takes the win by a long stretch once again.
No waste collection, no processing, no sticking around being unused for centuries, just throw it on the compost and you’re done. No harm to the soil, no harm to the oceans, it goes back to nature as it should.
I hope this has clearly deduced the best eco-straw alternative, but there may still be the lingering question from the beginning… surely, it’s still better to just not use a straw if you don’t need one? how does a bamboo straw score higher than just not using a straw?
The global populous holds a responsibility to replace a lot of the products we use and need on a daily basis with more eco friendly alternatives. Whilst there is a massively increasing number of people becoming eco-conscious, we still have a really long way to go before this is intrinsic in everyone’s life.
It’s a major transition from what is now a standard way of living, to a more eco-conscious and sustainable lifestyle. We’re all at different stages on this journey, but most have not yet even begun. Those just starting need some baby steps, a simple introduction to practicing sustainable living. These are the same steps many of us started with, nobody just jumps into a sustainable life overnight.
The eco-straw, is about more than just the straw. Eco-friendly straws are a great step in the right direction that encompasses so much more.
Not using a straw at all has no negative impact on the environment, but it also has no positive impact in encouraging sustainable practices and product choices. There’s no conversation starter. It doesn’t show farmers that they can make money with organic farming. It doesn’t help to increase the value in other sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives to the products which are absolutely necessary.
Bamboo straws still fulfil both a want and a need, and their influence towards a global mental-shift has incredible potential.
It’s for this reason they actually take the #1 spot in our list of our 5 best eco-friendly products in addition to the number one spot here.
Thanks for reading and I hope this provides some valuable information! If there’s anything you feel I’ve missed, or if you'd score the straws differently, please add this in the comments below and I’ll be happy to review and update.