Paper straws suck, no pun intended. As the EcoMons of Taft guilt us into a plastic straw ban on behalf of the turtles, the drinks we spend our own parents’ money on in the Jig become undrinkable due to the immediately overwhelming taste of paper. Paper straws are so eco-friendly they decompose right into your drink. Ellen captured the frustration of paper straws when she said on her show, “the only time [paper straws] don’t work is if you put them in any liquid, or if you put your mouth on them, or if you try to put them through a hole in the lid.” In reality, paper straws do not save the environment as much as everyone preaches: they decompose in 30-60 days but also release harmful chemicals that are used in the production to increase the effectiveness of a fundamentally flawed product. Please don’t misunderstand me, the turtles are important and saving the environment tops my list of priorities, but I also stand with straws and all that they do for us.
The traditional counterargument regurgitated when I rant about paper straws is, “don’t use any straws then.” I don’t believe that because paper straws fail to do their job that we should give up on straws forever. Straws better our lives in three main categories: convenience, cleanliness, and conservation. Straws make our lives easier, especially when we’re on the go. Sometimes, there is not enough time for a full meal so smoothies, juices, and coffees pick up the slack. These drinks are prone to spillage and splashing, which means straws protect the front of our shirts from becoming a canvas of what we have eaten over the course of the day. Furthermore, restaurants and bars do not clean their cups the same way we do at home: with so many people in and out of these establishments, the chance of spreading bacteria decreases when people use straws. Drinks that are dark in color, for example, coffee, have the potential to stain our teeth. Straws protect and conserve our pearly whites by ensuring that the liquids do not make direct contact with the fronts of our teeth. To put it simply, straws protect and serve us. The clear benefits of straws point to the solution of finding other alternatives rather than abandoning the straw ship altogether.
Among the possible alternatives to plastic straws stand many options that outwork and outperform paper straws every time. PLA, polylactic acid, is a plastic-like compound made from corn, which means straws made out of PLA are compostable and biodegradable. Interestingly, PLA makes sturdier plastic products than the original environmentally-detrimental plastic, producing greater convenience AND a potential future for our grandchildren. Many college campuses, such as Duke University, have transitioned from plastic to paper and, finally, to PLA straws and dishware: now everything that is not reusable is compostable. In the Duke Chronicle, they discuss that the only downside of PLA remains that it must be composted in a commercial composting facility where it takes three to six months to biodegrade. Because they require such specific conditions to biodegrade in that time frame, if the PLA straws are sent to landfills or the ocean, they will also take years to decompose and further, the environmental threat plastic straws pose. While the necessity for commercial composting may deter the use of the PLA straws, I believe the use of PLA products can be the push needed to propel educational institutions and restaurants into the complete transition to composting.
The most creative replacement for plastic straws is the pasta straw. Specifically designed for cold beverages—who uses a straw with hot drinks anyway—the pasta straw can hold their strength and form for over an hour, compared to those glorious 15 seconds that paper straws give us according to the Amazing Pasta Straw website. In addition, pasta straws do not collapse like plastic straws, making them the perfect choice for extra thick milkshakes and smoothies. In addition to their strength, pasta straws do not affect the taste of any drink, unlike paper straws. They are also completely safe for human and animal consumption, a positive not possible with plastic or paper straws. But, in the end, nothing tops the fact that pasta straws decompose virtually overnight without the use of special composting conditions.
I propose that, in addition to the ban on plastic straws, we ban paper straws. Paper straws are a temporary inconvenience until we can decide how to properly solve the problem of plastic pollution. Let’s investigate actual alternatives and implement effective solutions that will make a genuine difference.