Written by Mariah Martinez, Zoo in Your Neighborhood Coordinator at Potter Park Zoo
I was vacationing in Islamorada, Florida when my family and I had breakfast at a local restaurant. When we entered I read a sign that said: “WHY STRAWS SUCK. Over 500,000,000 plastic straws are produced every day, only to be used for a couple of minutes. Eventually, most of these straws end up in our oceans, adding to the billions of tons of trash already there. So, the next time you are offered a straw, please consider refusing it”.
I had no idea the affect straws had on the environment. I was unaware they do not biodegrade and only photodegrade, which results in the straw breaking down into smaller pieces and not decomposing. As we sat down and ordered our drinks, I realized that the restaurant didn’t even offer straws. The restaurant took a stance against one use plastic straws and carried through with it.
That day I said I would make the change and stop using single-use straws. Did I realize how hard this change would be? No. Do I realize it now? YES!
The best way to start refusing straws is by purchasing your own. Reusable straws are awesome and convenient for at home or even on the go. When I have to use straws with a to-go cup I use a reusable straw and refuse the plastic straw. I have tried acrylic straws that you use in tumblers, stainless steel, bamboo and glass straws. All of these options can be used more than once and cleaned using a drinking straw cleaning brush.
My Review of Plastic Straw Alternatives
Stainless Steel Straws: These were okay at first, but as time went on I felt uncomfortable about how clean they were. I couldn’t see into the straw and so I decided to stop using them. I looked online and found bamboo straws.
Bamboo Straws: Bamboo straws are awesome because they are a sustainable product and environmentally friendly. I thought if I bought the larger diameter ones, that I could clean them easier. This was not the case. Unfortunately, in my experience, they eventually became moldy. I would wash them, set them out to dry and when I would come back the ends were growing mold. Again, I couldn’t see how clean they were on the inside either. They are a good choice but they do not last as long due to cleaning issues.
Glass Straws: After these experiences, I decided to go with glass straws. People questioned me though: What if you drop them? Won’t they break easier? I have dropped mine on the kitchen floor a few times and they have not broken – they are quite durable! I could also see through them, which was very helpful for cleaning. Cleanliness is the issue I hear often from people when talking about reusable straws. Glass straws or reusable clear acrylic straws are fantastic because you can see through them. Most are in packs of four or more and can be any size you would like. You can keep them in your purse, backpack, car or drawer at work. The average price for any of the reusable straws I mention is around $10. You can also purchase them with the cleaning brushes. For a relatively small cost and occasional cleaning, switching to reusable straws can help protect wildlife and the environment from plastic pollution.
After buying reusable straws for use at home, I began refusing them at restaurants. Whether it is fast food or sit down, the challenge is always there. The comment I receive most by people is, “I don’t want to put my mouth on that glass”. The unfortunate truth is a straw isn’t going to fight off the germs. If the germs are on the glass, they are going to be in your drink, with or without a straw. People have no problem drinking alcohol out of a glass or mug, but somehow a soft drink or water glass is much worse? Another challenge of refusing straws is when the restaurants put the straws in your glass for you. To avoid this problem, I always emphasize when I order my drink that I do not need a straw.If you would like to continue making a difference, let the restaurant manager know why you are refusing straws. Restaurants can be part of the solution by asking patrons to refrain from using straws.
Here at Potter Park Zoo, we have never offered plastic straws or lids due to safety considerations for our animal residents. In order to better serve our guests and to support conservation, we recently began selling paper straws. In the first few months of selling, the zoo was able to sell 1,088 straws that are environmentally and animal friendly. Join Potter Park Zoo in making a change and commit to using an alternative to a plastic straw.
Check out a previous blog about how the single-use straw affects animals and the environment: https://potterparkzoo.org/we-have-straws/