Want an Easy Way to Fight Pollution? Stop Using Plastic Straws

By: Julia Westbrook, Associate Nutrition Editor

Considering Americans use 500 million drinking straws every day, this small change can have a big impact.

We're always trying to eat a little greener—choose organic, eat local, recycle, compost and cut back on food waste when we can. But what if we told you could drink greener with one easy swap. That's right, it's time to say bye-bye to your straws. With efforts like the #stopsucking campaign and Give a Sip, environmentally conscious eaters are making it clear that they want plastic straws out. The latest to consider joining the throng: New York City and McDonald's. Does this mean you can never enjoy an iced coffee again? Of course not. Read on to find out why giving up straws can be so impactful—and what to do instead.

Restaurants and Cities Banning Straws

The first city-wide ban on straws went into effect in Seattle on July 1, 2018. And other cities have been working to get their own straw laws in the books as well. Recently, New York City Councilman Rafael L. Espinal Jr. proposed a bill to get straws out of restaurants, bars, food carts, stadiums—basically anywhere that serves food—by banning them from offering single-use plastic straws or stirrers. The vote on this measure is expected later this summer. There are similar bans poised to happen in Malibu, Davis and San Luis Obispo, California, and Miami Beach and Fort Meyers, Florida.

On the restaurant side, McDonald's in the U.K. is looking to change the way we sip. In March, the fast food giant announced a program to swap out plastic straws with paper ones (keeping the plastic behind the counter) in all its restaurants in the U.K. and Ireland. And in April, British Prime Minister Theresa May proposed a sweeping ban of straws and other single-use plastics. While McDonald's shareholders recently voted down making the switch globally, the company has announced they'll start testing plastic-free alternatives in the U.S. next year.

Similarly, Starbucks has come under a lot of fire for being a major source of straws. They've announced a test-run of paper straws in the U.K., and some U.S. locations have started offering lids for cold drinks (available upon request) that are similar to the hot-drink lid, with a "sippy-cup" style opening–it's still plastic, but it does eliminate the need for a straw.

Other companies have successfully ousted or are phasing out plastic straws, including Danny Meyer's restaurants in NYC, Alaska Airlines, Ikea, Royal Caribbean and A&W Canada.

Why You Should Care About Straws

Why all the fuss? A plastic straw is (moderately) useful until the last drop of your drink—and then it's trash for forever. A mere 9 percent of all plastics ever made have been recycled over our history—leaving 6,557 million metric tons in landfills or polluting our environment, according to research from Science Advances. And straws are particularly susceptible to ending up as trash because they are made of plastic No. 5, or polypropylene, which is hard for recycling facilities to sort.

Now consider that the Ocean Conservancy estimates that Americans use over 500 million drinking straws daily. It's no surprise then that straws are commonly the top pollutant found at beach cleanups.

Check it out: The Best Reusable Products for Outdoor BBQ Parties & Picnics

How to Cut Out Straws

While more cities and restaurants get rid of straws, here are steps you can take now to reduce your plastic footprint.

1. BYO Straw

There are plenty of nonplastic options for straws. Reusable straws can be made of glass, stainless steel, silicone and bamboo. Single-use straws made of paper or even an edible seaweed-based material are also available. We like the travel-friendly stainless-steel straws, carrying case and cleaner by Healthy Human.

2. Be Proactive at Restaurants

Let your server know before you order drinks that you don't want a straw. You can bring your own or (gasp!) drink straight from the glass.

3. Eat at No-Straw Restaurants

It's not a complete list, but check out the Last Plastic Straw for a map of some of the restaurants that have eliminated plastic straws.

4. Talk to Your Favorite Restaurants

Talk to your favorite restaurants or write letters to ask them to stop assuming we want straws, and to consider offering paper ones or other more environmentally friendly alternatives to those customers who do want straws.

5. Support Organizations Fighting Plastic Pollution

Some of the organizations and campaigns dedicated to getting straws out of our environment include StrawFree.org, For a Strawless Ocean and Be Straw Free. Or look for smaller groups trying to fight straws locally, like New York City's Give a Sip or Strawless in Salt Lake City.

There are many organizations who have taken up the call to fight all plastic pollution, including Plastic Pollution Coalition, 5 Gyres and Surfrider Foundation.

Read More:

Simple Ways to Cut Back on Plastic in Your Food & at Home

The Best Food-Storage Containers for Packing Kids' Lunch Boxes

Is BPA-Free Plastic Safe?