National Geographic : 2019 Jul
EMBARK | PLANET OR PLASTIC MORE THAN 100 MILLION single-use straws—most of them plastic—are used in the United States each day. They end up in waterways, harm sea animals, and break down into microplastics that are becoming ubiquitous on Earth. Numerous places have passed plastic-straw bans as a way to start addressing the global plastic waste problem. Disability advocates, however, have pushed back on bans: They say straws are a necessary, everyday tool for many people, and nonplastic ver- sions may not be suitable substitutes. —SARAH GIBBENS STRAW POLL: WHICH ONES ARE ECO-FRIENDLY TO USE? PHOTOGRAPH BY REBECCA HALE Straw materials: Assets and disadvantages 1. METAL Made of stainless steel, aluminum, or even titanium, metal straws have become a popular alternative. They draw some criticism—for having a metallic taste, con- ducting heat from a hot drink, and clanking against the teeth—but they’re durable to transport and reuse. 2. PAPER Paper drinking straws, which date from the late 1800s, often absorb liquid over time, become mushy, and can leave a taste or fibers in drinks. They’re the most popular throwaway option in places with plastic-straw bans. 3. SILICONE This material provides a pop- ular soft alternative to metal reusable straws. One company has developed a silicone straw with an extra environmental twist: When burned, it turns into biologically inert ash. 4. GLASS Though glass straws may be more breakable and thus less portable than reusable straws of other materials, they hold up well to washing and reuse. Some makers add an artistic flair to the straws with colors and blown-glass designs and ornaments. 5. HARD PLASTIC Reusable straws made from rigid plastic are portable, easy to clean, and reasonably durable. Think of your typical reusable plastic water bottle shrunken to straw size. 6. BAMBOO This natural material can be sustainably produced and is a plant-based alternative to fabricated straws. Bamboo straws are reusable but can be hard to clean completely and may absorb flavors. When it’s time to dispose of them, they’re easily compostable. 7. BENDABLE STRAWS When bendable straws were first made in the 1940s, they were a boon in health-care settings to help patients drink without sitting up. Plastic bendable straws have become the safe, low-cost default in such settings—but the hunt is on for greener alternatives. 1 2 4 3 5 6 7 Learn more about plastic waste and take the pledge to reduce it at natgeo.com/ plasticpledge.