Our world has a plastic problem, and America’s relationship with single-use plastics is one part of it. Walk down any city or suburban street in the summer and you’re likely to see someone drinking an iced coffee through a straw. Go to any movie theater and you’ll see folks headed to their seats with giant sodas and slushies — and odds are they won’t be drinking them straight from the cup.
Straws have become shorthand for the deleterious impact single-use plastics have on our planet’s ecosystems, and for good reason. In the United States alone, between 170 million and 390 million straws are used each and discarded each day, adding to the 8 million tons of plastic that end up in our oceans every year. These straws are then consumed by marine life and can end up in the bellies of fish, nostrils of sea turtles and jammed in the throats of birds, causing them extreme pain and in many cases killing them.
Rising to the call to make our planet a better place for everything living in it, communities and countries are banning straws along with other single-use plastic, like plastic bags and utensils. Conservationists hope that straws will be a “gateway plastic” that leads to important conversations about our country’s reliance on single-use plastic. So while you’re ditching the straw, try to ditch the single-use coffee cups and plastic water bottles while you’re at it.
But as we have a conversation about straws, It’s important to note that they’re not only a preferred way of enjoying a beverage — for some, they can be essential to participation in public life. Many people with disabilities rely on straws to drink and eat outside of their homes, and banning straws without providing alternatives that actually work would push them further into the margins of society.
As we continue to innovate for the perfect solution that both minimizes our impact on the planet and meets the needs of people with disabilities who rely on them, here are some sustainable options for the sustainability-minded to consider:
Glass might be your best option when it comes to eco-friendly sipping devices. A glass straw is reusable and recyclable. A majority of glass straws are made of shatter-resistant borosilicate, so if you’re clumsy, you can drop away. Unlike paper and metal straws, glass straws don’t change the taste of your drink. So try one out from here or here.
Agave, a plant typically harvested for its sweet nectar, is becoming a staple in bioplastics, which are plastic-like materials made from organic compounds. The result? A straw that closely resembles our society’s beloved plastic straw, but is, thankfully, both biodegradable and affordable. And since many of these bioplastic companies are using waste to create the bioplastics, it’s a win-win for the eco-conscious consumer on a budget. Stores looking to buy in bulk can get straws from Bio Agave or individuals can find agave straws on Etsy here.
3. Dry Noodles
This might seem silly, but noodles are no longer just a vessel for marinara or soy sauce. Instead, companies are using dry noodles to transport liquids from your glass to your mouth. And there are a few reasons to be excited about it. First, noodles are biodegradable. They’re also affordable and surprisingly sturdy if you can get past how … uncanny it might be. Check it out here.
Paper straws are the most common replacement for single-use plastic straws. You’ll find them at coffee shops and restaurants touting a more environmentally-friendly option. Paper staws are a cheap, biodegradable solution. However, they quickly break down in a liquid, which can be frustrating for a slow drinker. You can also find paper straws at a variety of places, and even stores like Target and Walmart carry paper straws.
Seaweed is an easy, carbon-sucking plant when grown, so it makes sense to grow it for straws. The seaweed straws have a similar texture to plastic, but due to its compostable nature, it won’t survive in the ocean for centuries. Instead, they quickly biodegrade into food for marine animals. You can find seaweed straws here.
Bamboo straws are another popular replacement. It serves as the middleman between a single-use and a forever-use item. Bamboo straws are durable, but they probably won’t last you a lifetime, unlike a metal or glass straw. When it’s run its lifetime, the straws will decompose. Find a single bamboo straw here for only $2 or a set of six for $10.50 here.
Embed: Two children drink smoothies from a reusable metal straw, one of the most popular replacements for plastic straws. Photo by Viara Mileva/Getty Images
Metal might be the most common reusable straw you see. That’s because it’s easy to clean and compact enough to carry in a purse or backpack. However, keep in mind metal straws transfer heat easily, so beware of drinking your hot coffee out of one. Give them a shot and purchase four straws for $4.50 here.
Pun intended. Some companies have turned back to the straw’s origins. In the 1800s people used grain stalks, like straw or hay, to function as straws. So why not go back? Straw straws are cheap and biodegradable. You can find a pack of 100 straws for $7 here.
If you don’t want to give up the plastic-y feel, a silicone straw is your best bet. They’re perfect for your favorite boba or smoothie drink, and most are dishwasher safe. They’ll last you years, preventing hundreds of single-use straws ending up in the ocean or landfill. Silicone straws can be bought from many chain stores or online here.
10. Skip the Straw
The cheapest and most sustainable option on this list is to skip the straw altogether. Although some folks rely on straws due to disabilities, a majority of us don’t need a straw. So the next time you’re out at happy hour or sitting down for dinner, simply ask for no straw.
More: 37 Ways to Shrink Your Use of Plastic