On a recent night out at a tony and cosmopolitan downtown restaurant, our group was treated to a delightful cocktail served in a Mason jar that cost 12 hard-earned dollars. It was a rhubarb spritzer with cucumber, lime, and vermouth, and it was delicious—if not for the barbershop pole-patterned paper straw that came with it. Aesthetically, it screamed to be “liked” on Instagram. But practically, the paper straw made the drink a few degrees less pleasurable.
This inspired a conversation during The Takeout’s morning meeting about the merits of alternative straws—that is, straws not made of plastic. On one side: Plastic straws are destroying the planet. On the other: Paper and metal straws feel inferior. Where do you fall on this very first-world argument?
Point: Cardboard straws will save us all
I’m probably not going to volunteer for Greenpeace or install a wind farm on my roof any time soon, so I welcome the small, everyday measures I can take to maybe save this hunk of floating space rock we call home. I’ll recycle, ride my bike instead of driving, and sure, I’ll forgo a plastic straw. It seems like a relatively simple swap that makes a small different in the amount of plastic crap humans send to landfills, a.k.a. the ocean.
Cardboard straws are a fine alternative for sodas and lemonades and the like. When a café I frequented started using them a few years ago, I actually thought they were whimsical in a burlap-and-Pinterest sort of way. The papery feeling takes a bit of getting used to, but after a few weeks’ worth of sodas or lemonades, I doubt we’d still be hung up on the texture. Metal straws are a reusable option, especially for cocktails and iced coffees, and I’m fine with that, too. A highball glass with a metal straw is actually pretty classy, if you ask me, much more so than a cheap, disposable plastic straw.
Given some of the more involved solutions proposed to save our environment—carbon sequestration, scaleable alternative energies—just swapping out a straw’s material seems super simple. If the cardboard texture bothers you, maybe just sip from the cup directly instead?
Counterpoint: Plastic straws are the best of our current, awful options
First, allow me to present my environmental bona fides: I grew up in Seattle (liberals!), was a member of the Boy Scouts (we love the outdoors!), and live my adult life as an active recycler (in a city that doesn’t give two shits about recycling). I can empathize with the scourge plastic straws have been on our landfills and oceans.
It’s just that the current alternatives to plastic straws are uniformly awful. (I shall preface now, before the keyboard-mashing hounds are unleashed, how much of a pretentious, first-world problem this reads.)
Paper straws have a strange tactile sensation. It’s non-pliably stiff and begins to degrade into shreds within minutes in your drink. Metal straws suffer from the same fate—every time I’m given one, it conjures up a trip to the dental office, with cold metal instruments clanging around my teeth. I end up ditching the straw—as Kate suggested—and drinking out of the glass.
I know this is not the ideal solution, but maybe it’s the ideal solution for right now: I will attempt to be carbon neutral when it comes to straws. What if I keep using plastic straws—bendable, tactilely satisfying, fun to gnash between teeth—but I’ll find other measures to offset the environmental impact? I propose three ideas:
- Stop buying bottled water, opting for a Nalgene bottle instead.
- Stop using plastic bags when I shop in the produce section, since I’m going to wash my fruits and vegetables at home anyway.
- Use reusable food covers (the stretchable variety) instead of Saran plastic wrap every time I need to wrap cheese or half a lemon
In exchange, let me keep using plastic straws until I’m a big boy and get used to paper and metal straws.