Are straw alternatives really that great?

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I know I’m going to get some strong opinions – possibly a bit of hate – for saying this, but are straw alternatives really that cool?

I don’t think so.

Sorry. But hear me out.

For some time now people have been saying no to straws (and other single use plastic products) for the sake of the environment, especially for the ocean, as straws are one of the most-found items on beaches across the world and can cause harm and death to sea creatures like marine birds, fish and turtles. It is estimated that the UK uses 8.5 billion straws a year and in America about 500 million a day and while I don’t know what’s the number for South Africa, globally more than 1 billion (yes, the one with the nine zeros) are used and thrown out daily. That’s 365 000 000 000 straws per year.

Let it sink in, let the reality of what is sinking into our oceans/landfills sink in.

Because of these shocking numbers the fight against plastic pollution has become louder; shops are stepping away from distributing plastic bags, refillable water bottles and coffee cups are becoming increasingly popular, and during the last year there has been a spike in straw alternatives.

Apart from paper straws, there’s bamboo straws, glass straws, metal ones and in some places, even pasta straws.

Keeping people away from plastic straws is great, but I have a problem with straw alternatives and straws in general. And while it is eco-friendly it begs the questions, is it practical?

Firstly, your average straw alternative buyer and user is someone who is already in an eco-friendly state of mind. It is safe to say that they take their own shopping bags to the shop and they are aware of how much or how little plastic they’re using. If this person forgets his or her straw alternative when visiting a restaurant, they will decline a plastic straw without a doubt.

Next to beard oil, straw alternatives are the new hipster thing to have in your purse and I don’t know about you, but there’s no way that I will remember every single time to take my straw with me to a restaurant or with me back home again before I leave a restaurant. Sure one will get into the habit eventually to remember, but after how many straws? An average bamboo straw is R20, when do you think you’ll start remembering to take your straw with you?

Luckily the bamboo straws are biodegradable if you lose a few, but money doesn’t grow on trees.

And the buying doesn’t stop at the different types of straw alternatives, you can also buy a special hemp sleeve, get a cleaning brush and then you need a whole different type of straw if you want to suck up those juice bits of your smoothie.

It’s a whole business – yes, people are helping the environment, but people are also making money. And do you want to know why people are making? Because somewhere along the line of human existence we have lost the ability to bring a glass closer to our mouths, put our lips on said glass and take a big old gulp.

We’ve lost the ability to use our mouths and went a few steps backwards to the time when we were all young, sucking on pacifiers and drinking out of sippy cups.

Now, if you suffer from mysophobia (or if you call it bacteriophobia or germaphobia, the fear of contamination and germs) you are excused and I urge you to get yourself a straw alternative instead of using a plastic straw.

But if you are using a straw – plastic or otherwise – because you say things like “you just never know how clean those glasses are in a restaurant” I respectfully want to ask you to just take a minute and think logically about what you are saying.

You are saying that restaurants’ glasses are dirty, yet you drink coffee out of a cup with your mouth.

You are saying that restaurants’ glasses are dirty, yet you sip your wine or Scotch on the rocks straight from the glass.

You are saying that restaurants’ glasses are dirty, yet you eat with utensils other people have licked before you.

Or perhaps you say things like smoothies and milkshakes taste better when you drink it with a straw, yet you drink the smoothie you make at home straight from the container, bits and all.

Also, if the glass is that dirty that you don’t want your lips to touch it, how safe do you think is the contents in the glass?

In a nutshell, we just need to stop being babies and divas about straws. If you really want to fight plastic pollution, put your money where mouth is and get into the habit of not using straws at all.

And dear restaurants all over South Africa and the world.

Hats off to those of you who have stopped using plastic straws, or at least stopped giving straws out with every single drink. But to those of you who are still, without fail, giving a customer a straw per drink, please stop. A glass of water does not need a straw. A cold drink also does not need a straw. You’ll quickly realise that people don’t care that much about straws – using it is a habit – if they don’t see it, they’re most likely not even going to be bothered to ask for one. And please, stop serving drinks with straws in it already, you might think it looks all fancy smancy, but it is stupid. Stop it, a great deal of the fight against straw pollution starts with restaurants.

Just use your mouth people. Stop being so damn extra.

straw alternatives

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