Reusable Straws: Everything You Need to Know About Ditching Plastic

This simple switch could help save the environment
Plastic Straw Waste

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The plastic straw, an item that you probably didn’t think twice about using a few years ago, has become a source of controversy as concern over pollution from single-use plastics has grown. Americans use 500 million straws per day according to the National Park Service, but in recent years many bars, coffee shops and pizzerias across the country have begun taking steps to reduce this number.

How the Environment Impacts Your Health

Thanks to reusable straws, you can still sip on your favorite summer drink while also being environmentally friendly. Kaylin Marcotte, co-founder of Project PlastICK, an organization that challenges consumers to go 30 days without creating plastic waste, talked to The Active Times about the different types of reusable straws, how they should be cleaned and why we should consider using them.

What are the dangers of plastic straws?
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, plastic straws are among the top five most common items found during the International Coastal Cleanup, along with other single-use, disposable plastics. Plastic straws are particularly dangerous because they are not recyclable and pose a threat to marine life. “The production process is also a problem,” Marcotte wrote in an email. “They’re made from fossil fuels that require a ton of energy and natural resources to extract and refine.” 

What kinds of reusable straws are there? 
Reusable straws can be made of metal, silicone, bamboo or glass. Many restaurants are also transitioning from plastic straws to more eco-friendly options, such as paper straws or even straws made from pasta, but environmentalists think there is still more work to be done.

Marcotte is glad that restaurants are ruling out plastic straws, but she would like to see businesses limit all types, even reusable ones.

“I’m not a big fan of the paper straw for either consumer experience or environmental benefit,” she wrote. “They’re of course a better option than plastic for restaurants and bars, but I would love to see non-plastic straws available only upon request, and ideally they would be reusable — after all, we all use reusable silverware and dishes!”

Which reusable straw should I choose?
“I’ve tried every kind, and my favorites are metal (stainless steel or titanium),” wrote Marcotte. “They’re easy to clean, light and durable enough to keep in my bag, and are an incredibly recyclable material.”

Marcotte also advises against using silicone straws, as this material still carries health and environmental risks. “Silicone may be better than single-use plastic because it’s reusable, but it's still a synthetic polymer and there are concerns over toxicity and chemical leaching, especially when exposed to heat.”

How do I keep it clean?
Marcotte recommends cleaning your reusable straw after each use when drinking a smoothie, coffee or flavored beverage and every few times when drinking water. Many products come with a cleaning brush and should be rinsed with dish soap, brushed through thoroughly and fully dried. If you are using a bamboo straw, Marcotte warns that it is especially important to “make sure it’s cleaned and allow it to dry fully to avoid bacteria or mold.” You may not have realized how much bacteria can build up inside of a straw — or in these other hidden places in your home.