Straws Suck… Don’t They? (And Why It Doesn’t Matter If People Disagree)

Straws Suck… Don’t They? (And Why It Doesn’t Matter If People Disagree)

Last week, I shared a picture of some reusable glass and metal straws for sale in a local café on my Instagram feed, and it went a tiny bit viral.

reusable-glass-and-stainless-steel-straws-treading-my-own-path

There were a lot of comments, some commending the reuse of items rather than their disposal, but others shocked, horrified – disgusted even – at the idea of washing something up when it’s been used and reusing it again.

that-is-disgusting full-of-bacteria

I have to say, I was surprised by some of the comments. It had never occurred to me that people would find the idea of a reusable straw unhygienic. It’s not as if plastic straws, made in factories, and stored in warehouses, are sterile.

What surprised me most is that most people would think nothing of going into a café or restaurant and using their glassware, mugs or cutlery…even though those things have been used by other people.

What is so different about straws?
id-be-all-for-this

Washing up has been around for centuries, and the human race is still here. Most cafes do have dishwashers that reach hot temperatures, meaning they sterilise their crockery, cutlery and glassware. If people are really concerned about using stuff that other people have touched, they can bring their own.

But I have never seen anyone bring their own plate, glass, knife and fork to a restaurant because they are worried about “bodily fluid diseases”.

These straws weren’t even being re-used: they were for customers to buy and take home to sterilise to their heart’s content.

no-thank-you-im-out

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to have the same opinion as me. We all see things differently! But I truly expected any disagreement to stem from laziness or cost. Or whether straws are necessary altogether.

I realise that bringing a straw is too much effort for some, and that the idea of paying for something when you can use the disposable one for free is new to others. Buying one is obviously more expensive than not buying one, and we all have bills to pay.

I just didn’t think that people would consider disposable plastic straws to be a better option.

more-dishes-that-are-impossible-to-wash

Of course, part of me ( a big part of me!) wanted to curl up in a little ball and hide from all the mean comments, or delete the post altogether. But it isn’t about preaching to the converted, is it? What I’m hoping to do is show people new ideas; things they haven’t thought of before. To get them to think about the choices they make, and maybe make better ones in the future.

Are reusable straws are really necessary? Well, that’s a personal choice. I know from watching my mother-in-law struggle (after I insisted that she didn’t need the straw) that drinking a frozen daiquiri is pretty difficult without a straw. So is drinking fresh coconut water from a coconut. Children struggle with holding big glasses, and I used to work at a café where an elderly lady would order her cappuccino with a straw, as her hands were too shaky to hold the cup.

Whether you chose to avoid daiquiris and drinking coconuts, or get a reusable straw, well, that’s up to you. I have a reusable straw, and whilst I don’t consider it strictly necessary, I love the opportunity it gives me to start conversations.

That’s what this is about, after all. Starting conversations. I’m not expecting everyone to see a single photo and change their ways. I’m hoping to plant a seed, or prepare the way for future seeds. I’m hoping to get people thinking, and to question why they make the choices they make.

Not everyone, of course.

I’d love to tell all those naysayers that plastic straws are made of polypropylene, or plastic number 5, which isn’t commonly recycled.

Where it is recycled, it is made into fence posts and garden furniture, or to produce chemicals: it isn’t made into new straws.

I’d love to tell them that plastic straws are one of the top 10 items found in beach clean-ups. That they harm wildlife (hasn’t everyone seen the turtle video?), and create litter.

That disposable plastic straws do more harm than good.

But would they want to listen? I doubt it.

Some people will never change. And actually, that doesn’t matter. Because we don’t need everyone on board with an idea to bring about change. We need far fewer than you might think.

We need as little as ten per cent.

The tipping point for bringing ideas from the minority into the mainstream can be as little as ten per cent. (Here’s the science to back it up.) That is what keeps me smiling when faced with the naysayers.

My goal is not to preach to the converted. But it isn’t to fight, argue, or try to reason with the disbelievers, either. It’s to find those people in the middle ground. In between these two extremes, in the middle ground, lies everyone else.

That’s where I was, when I started this journey. The middle ground. I thought I was pretty sustainable, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought it was all about the recycling. I’d never given much thought to reducing, or reusing, or refusing. Once I did – well, that changed everything.

Mixed in with the converts, and the disbelievers, are the people who see this as a great idea: something they hadn’t thought of before, and an easy action to take (be it getting a reusable straw, or simply refusing a plastic one). For every person who makes a better choice, the planet wins.

Vive the Reuse Revolution : )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any “green” habits or products that you think are so glaringly obvious to support, and yet you’ve found that others disagree – for reasons you didn’t expect? What reasons? Are there any “green” ideas that at first you weren’t sure about, but over time you’ve changed your mind? What is the craziest reason you’ve heard not to support something that’s better for the planet? How do you deal with naysayers? Where do you sit with reusable straws – do you have one? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

57 Responses to Straws Suck… Don’t They? (And Why It Doesn’t Matter If People Disagree)

  1. Wow! I’m so surprised. I have never heard that argument before – ever! I dislike the “hygiene” argument a lot – as if exposing yourself to the toxic chemicals in plastic is any healthier than just washing up! Thanks for your post, and love the 10% idea. Much easier to tackle ;)

    • Thanks for your comment Alexis – good to hear I’m not the only one who is surprised! I dislike the hygiene argument too. Sure things need to be clean, but anti-bacterial and sterile EVERYTHING is going too far. Now scientists think our current antibiotics will cease to be effective very soon, because of this trend… :(

      No successful campaign ever had 100% support. Many don’t even have the majority. Most people are indifferent, and it only takes a small amount of dedicated people to bring about change :)

  2. A misguided obsession with hygiene is responsible for a lot on environmental damage. I see plenty of kids drinking from reusable sippy cups so the leap to a reusable straw isn’t that great, but go figure! I wonder though, do people with a rabid fear of saliva abstain from kissing?

  3. I just checked out your instagram post and I’m both amused and shocked at some of the comments. It’s just a straw, it reads like you’ve told people to slup their drinks off a toilet floor. Completely crazy!

      • You are right to not worry about it too much Lindsay! Most of these comments look like ‘trolls’ and aren’t very insightful. People can be very closed minded. I would think that glass straws would be a good alternative for cafes, that way people can see through them to see that they are clean (as opposed to a stainless steel straw). I wish more cafes asked if you need a straw before adding one- I was caught out with this recently.

        • Thanks Sarah! It did feel a bit like that, and whilst I wasn’t too worried, it really gave me a taste of what people who receive online abuse actually go through… Not much fun!

          I know what you mean. It is amazing how many people (men, especially) simply take them out without even using them. But we will get there!

  4. With straws, I’d love to see campaigns (maybe as part of PFJ) to have restaurants and cafes only supply straws if people want them – like asking if someone wants sugar in coffee. People obsessed can still have them, no issue. However, those who want to opt out and sometimes forget to order ‘no straw’ and those in the middle who don’t care are more likely to say no and maybe think a little. I think it has potential to significantly reduce straw numbers.

    • Hi Mel, thanks for your comment! I think that is the next step, that’s what happened with plastic bags in the UK before the ban. Shops stopped just handing them out, and you’d have to ask, or help yourself. Then, if they are using less, maybe they will switch to paper/bamboo and reusables. There are a few anti-straw campaigns about the place – I’ll have to do a blog post about them all sometime!

      • Question is, what got the shops to stop handing out plastic bags? And how do we get there with straws? I am planning to put the idea to a couple local Councils where I’ve had a few small wins. If there’s a business reason for change… only thing I can think of is extra advertising thru Council during PFJ. Any other ideas?

        • I think people have been aware of the environmental impacts of bags for a long time, and also know that there is a viable alternative – reusable shopping bags. I can remember local supermarkets in the UK having reusable bags from way back – as long as I can remember. Easily 20 years. But straws are different. People don’t see them as waste or an environmental problem in the same way – and they don’t realise there is a reusable alternative. Education, awareness… that takes time.

  5. I refuse straws all the time. Most of the time they serve no purpose and are not necessary. Most zoos don’t provide straws and people get along just fine there. :)

  6. Things I thought of as crazy – diva cups, no shampoo, and zero waste. Now, prefer the eco options over the others anyway and zero / minimal waste came as a good accident.

    • Thanks for these Mel! When I wrote that bit, I thought to myself – washable reusable sanitary pads! I have had a Diva cup since 2003, and I have always thought that reusable nappies made complete sense, but for some reason the pads did not! It took me about 2 years of plastic-free living to actually embrace them and get one. Not that I used disposables, but sometimes in the night in the first day or two my Diva cup leaks (basically fills up) – and that makes a HUGE mess. So it is crazy that I just put up with that for so long!

      Why did you think zero waste was crazy?! Is it the “zero” part?

      • Yah, I’m still adjusting to the pads for the same reason. Zero waste just seemed so impossible and only for people who were a bit extreme. I don’t think I even thought of it as a goal, it just sorta happened as I slowly ticked off one item at a time on my green list (still have more on my green list but very little landfill. It was a lot easier than I ever expected to eliminate most of my landfill and keep the habits.

        • I can relate to that! I didn’t read Bea Johnson’s book until last year – long after I was zero waste, because it always seemed extreme (based solely on the front cover – they do say you shouldn’t judge books by their covers)! It was only when I realised that I was actually living zero waste that I realised it isn’t so extreme after all.

  7. Thankfully, in Europe (or at least in Ireland), the use of plastic straws isn’t so mahoosive like in the US. I noticed that is the American brands of restaurants that have it somehow embedded in them (Eddie Rocket’s, TGI’s, McDonald’s). Often they (thankfully) offer an option for people to take it with their meal (available at the till) rather than being forced upon. Of course, bars are different to restaurants, you get a straw pretty much automatically….which is annoying and even asking for a drink without a straw is very surprising to the barmen. Sigh. But as you said, it does start conversation and that’s the main thing!!

    • Here in Australia they are pretty pervasive Zdenka : ( I think because Australia has such a healthy, outdoors lifestyle, everyone drinks green juice and smoothies – with a straw! I have found that having a reusable straw sometimes helps overcome the incomprehension that I might not want a straw. It becomes, “oh, you do want a straw but you have your own.” Which is somehow more understandable. On occasions I still order a drink and refuse a straw (or more likely, someone in my group will, and I will refuse straws on everyone’s behalf) only to be given one. In this case I always make the point to send it back. I know that it is likely to go in the bin, but I want to make the point that I really don’t want a straw and that I find them completely unacceptable.

      As a side note, if I am in a bar, or somewhere where I can see a drink being made, I watch the bar person like a hawk and as soon as they put their fingers near the straw cannister I shout out across the bar to remind them! ;)

      • Haha! I can see you clearly at that bar :))) And yes, I meant to say US and Australia! It’s very surprising because I would have thought that in Oz, where people are outdoor-oriented and beach-loving, they would have copped it!! People, eh?!
        I also send back straws which I get despite specifying I didn’t want one. I sometimes say with a smile: I am an adult, I can drink straight from a glass, thank you. (Of course, this is not to sound condescending towards people who do need a straw to drink, like you mentioned in your post!)
        My boyfriend enjoys his drink better with a straw (I know..eye roll!) but when we talked about it he said that the glass straw sounds very nice…so I’m in the process of getting some for him..it’s the little things.

        • I find it surprising that so many groups of people don’t do more about the plastic problem – beachgoers, surfers, outdoor types, vegans… plastic is such an environmental issue! Of course many do. But I wish everybody did! ;)

          I prefer my glass straws over metal ones. They feel nicer in my mouth, and it is far easier to see if it is clean. I am sure your boyfriend will be a convert! : )

  8. Great article, and what an Instagram feed/comments your post caused!!! I too was genuinely shocked by the ‘unhygienic’ comments but maybe they will change their minds over time, let’s hope anyway! Keep doing what you’re doing, you have a great website which I read completely when I started on our family plastic free journey. We no longer have a kitchen bin, which is a huge step (just a plastic tub under the sink) and all of this in the space of 4 months! Thanks for your inspiring work :)

  9. Sorry, on a roll…. one that I received massive resistance to was using real plates etc at a weekend family reunion. Many relatives are committed to plastic and (gasp) styrofoam divider plates. I even volunteered to do all the dishes for anyone who wanted to opt for real plates etc. Of 35 ppl, we had the range of support and 3 plate options for the main meal (yep, real, disposable pastic, or styrofoam). Still a win. Overall less waste and lots of discussions.

  10. Goodness! Good on you for having such a positive reaction!

    As you allude to many people are in a particular mindset and anything different seems shocking to them, but once you get to ten percent then it starts to normalise for the rest of the population. I found the idea of using a mooncup gross and assumed it would be uncomfortable but I finally got one a few months ago and I love it – actually suits my needs better than tampons, in addition to the environmental reasons I got it in the first place. (By the way i’d love it if you could write a post about all the zero waste options that become effortless once implemented – like the mooncup). I did a dumpster dive some years ago and loved the look of shock on my white collar colleagues faces, my boss looked like he would be sick. Then it became illegal :(

    I hope my 17 month old daughter grows up with a more environmentally focussed mindset so that the opposite things are what is normal for her. I hope one day she will say “What you used to buy food in plastic containers and then throw them in the rubbish? That’s so dumb.”

    • Thanks Mel : )

      Yes, that is the tipping point. That’s when the “crazy” ideas start to get accepted as normal, and paves the way for mainstream.

      It’s funny when we adopt things, thinking that we are making a compromise or that it won’t be as good, only to find it is better! A nice surprise, and then a – can’t believe I didn’t do this before! I’ve added that to my blog post list!

      I’d love to dumpster dive, but I’d be a fussy diver – I don’t want to eat processed junk! Whereabouts did you live – I didn’t know it was illegal (although, it doesn’t surprise me).

      I’m sure your daughter will. I think younger people are far more aware of the issues. And yes, I hope she does say that! : )

  11. Just wanted to say that my three children loooove their stainless steel straws and that they are big enough to use for smoothies too!!

  12. Thank you for putting the idea out there among those who have never heard of or seen a reusable straw, and taking the flack. Plastic straws and their wrappers litter the beach just about every time we go, which is several times a week. The straws never decompose and they are ingested by wildlife.
    Many of the negative comments were probably the first reactions of people who had never seen or heard of reusable straws. I’m hoping some will have a change of heart as they think and hear more about them.
    As for us, we love our stainless steel straws and enjoy talking to others about why we use them.

    • Thanks for your comment Cynthia, and for picking up litter where you see it. I agree, whenever I pick up litter, there will be a straw.

      Yes, my hope is that I’ve planted some seeds – or prepared the soil, at least! (Metaphorically speaking!)

      Tell everyone! It isn’t just about doing the right thing, it is about telling others why we make the choices we do. That is just as important – maybe more so ; )

  13. Drinking straws used to be made of waxed paper – I wonder what happened to that?

    I can sort-of understand the hygiene argument on the basis that the inside of a straw is likely to be pretty difficult to wash, unlike normal crockery or glasses, and might cumulate some sort of bugs in a less-than-100% perfect washing-up system.

    • Not sure Pam, but I think some paper straws are plastic-lined, and the true paper ones don’t work very well. Regardless, single use is old news. Bring on the reuse revolution! ;)

      Possibly, but I’m sure most people at home don’t have 100% perfect washing up systems. Most industrial dishwashers get pretty hot!

  14. At least you got people talking about it! That’s awesome how much attention came from that. I’m surprised by the negative comments. My 20 yr. old daughter is a clean freak (doesn’t think I wash our dishes well enough etc.) and yet when I’ve asked her on occasion to use one of our reusable straws with her Starbucks, she hasn’t complained or balked once about it.

  15. I’m surprised at the comments about hygiene, I mean at restaurants they have metal utensils, do those people not put the forks and spoons in their mouths? If they don’t I’m very curious of how they eat! I’d love to use them personally.

  16. I think it’s ridiculous that people think single-use items are more sanitary than BYO! What about the barista or bartender that grabs your straw by the tip with their dirty hands? You’re putting your mouth on that!

  17. Good on you. I carry my own metal straws, chopsticks and spork. Plastic straws are a massive problem. My mum thinks I am fighting a losing battle – I replied that someone’s gotta do it. Stick with it. I’m by your side. :-)

    • That’s great Sally! Your mum is wrong – whilst it IS a battle (or it feels like that sometimes!), but you can only lose if you give in. And we are not giving in! If all the people who “would” change, but think it is a losing battle, actually did change – imagine how much better everything would be!

      Plastic hasn’t always been popular. It only became popular in the 1960s, before the environmental impacts were understood. Now we know, we can do better.

      Thanks for being part of the team! We are on the winning side, I promise!

  18. This is very topical for me. We went to a bar in Brunswick last night where we were given drinks with straws. I wasn’t quick enough to refuse the straws but have since emailed them requesting that they ask people if they want a straw rather than assume we do. Hopefully they will take it on!

    • I assure you, that quick-fire response gets quicker the more times you are given a straw against your will! Eventually you will get to the point where you march behind the bar and watch them make your drink, arms crossed, to avoid the straw!

      And great work for letting them know. That’s what we need to do – to start conversations. I don’t want a straw, and this is why. Just keep pushing… : )

    • I hear you Melanie! There is no way my husband would use “cloth” either, and there seems no point us both having different routines. It’s not that I would necessarily either, but because he is so firm, I haven’t had to think about it. I know some people use “cloth” for number ones, but if we already have toilet paper, I’ll use it. I always say, it isn’t about being perfect. It’s about making batter choices, and doing what we can. We all have boundaries :)

  19. In my village the businesses have agreed to phase out plastic straws, so it can be done! Next on the list is plastic bags.

    http://www.thebigfix.org/sector-collaborations/249-collaborations
    Blackheath, in the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains, Australia, has become the world’s first town in which all the shopfront businesses have agreed to phase out plastic straws.

    Thirty businesses – all the cafes, restaurants, bakeries, grocery shops, delicatessens, takeaways, service stations and pubs – now display signage indicating that they will only offer straws on request. Some businesses, like The Piedmont Inn, have already replaced plastic straws with paper straws! A community bulk buy and sponsorship by Aardvark paper straws and Australian distributor Green Pack means that when stocks of plastic straws are depleted, all the other businesses in this popular tourist destination will also offer paper straws instead of plastic.

    According to Lis Bastian from The Big Fix, who organised the bulk buy, “We believe that as community awareness rises, more and more people will choose to ‘Say NO!’ to straws, and that the demand, even for paper straws, will decrease. Globally billions of straws are thrown out each day and Blackheath alone has been throwing out around 40,000 straws a month! Because they don’t biodegrade, they are amongst the top plastic pollutants harming our waterways, oceans and ecosystems. This is such a small and easy thing each one of us can do and I’m thrilled that the businesses of Blackheath have worked collaboratively to achieve this milestone” :

  20. I’m always astonished at the number of people who never turn their work computers off because it takes ‘too long’ for them to re-boot in the morning… O.o Why not arrive a couple minutes earlier, or use the time to make a cup of tea if it takes that long? It is incomprehensible to me.

    • That is so true Lola! Like you say, can people be that eager to start work that they can’t switch their computer on, and then make a cup of tea and chat to colleagues for two minutes?! It’s not as if it will translate to going home 2 minutes earlier!

  21. I’m surprised, i like the idea, everyone uses the same cups day in day out and we have a thing called an immune system anyway to deal with bacteria (something we often forget!). Just put them in with the rest of the dishes to wash, i don’t see a problem. My girlfriend has quite sensitive teeth so is always using straws so I’ll be getting her one of these!

  22. I really enjoyed reading your article.There is a percentage (I think it is 10-15%) of people who won’t change, the wall goes up immediately and they justify their actions/ways mainly to themselves. You will not get anywhere with these closed minded individuals. You are right not to waste your breath or energy. Plant the seed hopefully then move on. But they are only 10-15% and when consumer culture shifts they will be following along with the rest. But it takes innovators and change agents like yourself. Thank you!

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