This article is a little different than most reusable straw posts. We start with the assumption that you're already a conscious consumer and ready to take your research into reusable straws to the next level. More importantly, you want to know which option is best for the planet and the people making it. Take a load off, we already did the research for you!
Before we begin, it's always good to remind ourselves of the stats.
Americans alone, use more than 500 million straws daily. That's enough to wrap around the Earth 2.5 times ... and that's just Americans! While straws are an amazing invention, and even necessary for some, the amount of waste they create is unreal. They get used once, tossed and forgotten about forever. Meanwhile, they pollute our environment and take thousands of years to degrade into a toxic mess.
So yeah, reusable straws seem like a good idea.
We are not going to recommend that you purchase from Amazon or any other big retail giant. Instead, we found companies and people, who are making a difference in this world. Who wants to purchase from "too big to fail" corporations anyways? Instead buy small, buy local, buy different but more importantly, F%$& the man :)
Also, please note that our recommendations are based on our own personal style. All materials below are great reusable alternatives to single use plastic straws. Our goal is not to limit your options but to give you a full understanding of each. In the end, choose the option that you love because the best reusable alternative is the one that gets used!
The materials | Not all are created equal
First we wanted to limit our search to the contenders. We narrowed it down to 5 materials that were worth exploring some more.
- BPA-free plastic
- Stainless steel
We also set some specific environmental criteria that we wanted our straws to adhere to:
- Can you reuse it?
- Production - how is the material produced?
- Material longevity - can it withstand a daily beating?
- End of life - is it compostable, biodegradable, recyclable or landfill?
Glass Straws | New Hope
This part of the article has been revised since first writing it. Revision made on 8/30.
When first writing this post, I was given the assumption by many bloggers and companies that glass straws were made of tempered glass. Recently, Jessica Hare, the owner of StrawHopper, who also has over 10 years of experience in the glass industry at Pegasus Glass, pointed me in the right direction. Glass straws are actually made of soda lime or borosilicate glass.
From my understanding, borosilicate glass was originally engineered specially for laboratories to withstand high temperatures and harsh chemical conditions. According to Jessica, borosilicate glass is not necessary to use when making glass straws. As for soda lime glass, it comes in many forms. A popular form is best represented by a beer bottle. According to Jessica, the soda lime glass needed for straws is different. “The difference between a beer bottle and a long term storage container [or straws] is how much sodium oxide (soda) and calcium oxide (lime). is in the chemical makeup of the glass. I like to say it’s more along the lines of a mason jar.”
Fun Fact From Jessica: Most glass straws on the market are made from Pyrex tubing which is derived from borosilicate glass. The only Pyrex that’s tempered are your cooking dishes. Regular soda lime container glass makes for a perfect balance between the two types.
How about the life cycle? Well, neither material can be recycled in your curbside bin, but soda lime glass can be recycled at some recycling facilities. You will need to check with your local waste management center to see if they have the ability to recycle it, or if it will need to be taken to a specialized facility. Borosilicate glass won’t recycle at all. This is due to its high heat resistance and the fact that it doesn’t mix well with soda lime glass, the most popular form of glass in recycling. For both glass materials, I would recommend contacting the company that you bought it from. Some companies like StrawHopper, have recycling programs that take both materials, crush it up and use it in concrete mix! Not perfect, but a fantastic alternative as it keeps the glass out of the landfill!
While I think soda lime glass straws are awesome and have the potential to last a life-time, I would personally prefer something that composts quickly. However, glass straws are great if you use them. Especially if you find a way to recycle them or extend their life (see recommendation company). In the end, nothing is perfect but darnit, glass straws are pretty close! I also think they are aesthetically beautiful.
My only note would be to pay close attention to the company you are buying from. We won’t name companies but plenty inaccurately described their products online and most don’t have a recycling program.
Oh, don’t by straws that are dyed. According to Jessica, no coloring is perfect and many contain heavy metals. They are perfectly "safe to use but not so great for the people making these straws.” Her company only uses clear glass which is way more aesthetically pleasing anyways!
We wholeheartedly recommend StrawHopper! Not only is the owner awesome, the company and their ethos are just fantastic! Over 90% of their straws are derived from soda lime glass which can be either recycled or mixed with concrete. The other 10% is made with borosilicate glass which they also mix with concrete at the end of its lifecycle. They don’t use dyes because of the toxicity and air pollution concerns, they are members of 1% For The Planet, have carbon neutral packaging and their straws are manufactured in Canada! They are also just a cool company!
Silicone Straws | The Plastic Contender
For reusable plastic straws, they vary in material but most environmentally friendly ones are made from 100% silicone. Avoid acrylic, it does not recycle easily.
As for silicone, it's extremely durable and should last you a lifetime. All Silicone is recyclable, and it's possible your curbside bin will take it but please check with your local waste management authorities before doing so. If they don't take it, ask if you can recycle it yourself at the waste facility.
Silicone does have some downfalls. For starters, silicone does not biodegrade. Once made, it will last to the end of time. If you choose silicone, make your kids promise to recycle it when you die because dammit, this straw should last you a lifetime!
The second downfall with silicone is that it's a plastic. Personally, we are trying to eliminate plastic from our life, not create it. We would be interested in a recycled alternative.
Silicone straws might be a great alternative for children! A major complaint with other reusable materials such as, glass and stainless steel, is that kids chip their teeth or cut their lip using them. For that purpose, we see silicone as a perfect solution for your kids.
Silikids mission is dedicated to, "building a social movement and creating a cultural shift away from toxic and unsustainable plastic wares by providing the alternative to them.” They sell on Amazon but you should buy it from Silikids directly! You can wait the extra three days for shipping.
Green Paxx as a company tries to, “ tip the needle in the green direction. This means the culture of the company promotes healthy, natural habits which in turn lead to a better planet.” All packaging is made from 40% post-consumer waste with no glue, which makes it 100% recyclable. They also use a green web hosting company for their website... Yes, the small details matter!
Stainless Steel | The Flirt
From an aesthetic standpoint, stainless steel straws are beautiful and we were drawn to them immediately. They are extremely durable and 100% recyclable! You have to take it to a designated local metal recycling facility to do so.
However, like silicone, stainless steel does not biodegrade. Once again, if you choose this option, make your kids promise to recycle it.
The second downfall with stainless steel is how we obtain it. Basically, steel is iron, with all the carbon removed. To turn iron into steel, you need a furnace which is probably powered by coal - 74% of all steel is powered using coal! As we all know, coal is harmful to human health and the environment at large.
You can negate some of steels environmental impact by using recycled steel as it needs less energy to recreate. However, coal is still needed in most cases and from our research, we found no company making recycled stainless steel straws.
Steel is an amazing resource but maybe not for straws. We have stainless steel containers and pans in our house but from an environmental standpoint, we think other materials work better for straws.
Recommendation | U Konserve
We found U Konserve on page 10 in Google and immediately fell in love with their eco principles and social impact. U Konserve is a B-Corporation and part of 1% For The Planet! They not only make stainless steel straws but amazing reusable stainless steel lunch containers (that we bought) made from 100% recyclable materials!
Compostable Straws | A Difference Maker
Technically, compostable straws are not a reusable alternative. However, they hold a place in this discussion because they can easily be composted. It might not seem like a huge selling point but it is!
There are two types of compostable straws; one is made from a bio-based plastic and the other from paper. The bio-based plastic can get a little confusing. Yes, it's compostable but only at a commercial facility. We live in Portland, a pretty environmentally conscious city, but, even we don't have a commercial compost bin on every corner. You find them at festivals but they are not mainstream quite yet.
Side note: Don't overthink it. If the decision is between a bio-based plastic or a regular plastic straw, choose bio-based!
Paper straws on the other hand are just that - paper. The company we found makes straws that compost in the natural environment within 30-60 days! So when you are done with your straw throw it in the compost pile!
Compostable paper straws are a fantastic idea for next birthday or house party - with kids or without! Both are fantastic ideas for coffee shops, bars and restaurants, where a good percentage of the straw waste occurs. One day, we might live in a society where everyone brings their reusable straw (#BYOS) but for now, bio-based and paper straws are a great alternative.
Paper Recommendation | Aardvark
When you find a company doing it right, you can't help but to love them! All materials used in the production of Aardvark straws and all labor to make the straws, is done in the United States. They are FDA and EU compliant. All paper is certified by both the Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative. But best of all, their straws will compost in the natural environment in about 30-60 days... including seas, rivers and oceans!
Just an awesome small business, doing amazing things!
Bio-Based Recommendation | World Centric
They are not fancy but after a little research, we love what World Centric has done! They are a B-Corporation which seems to be a trend in this article! They only create 100% compostable products, they offset all their carbon emissions and donate 25% of their profits to social and environmental grassroot organizations! They also offer a 20% discount to schools and non-profits!
Bamboo | The natural material
Bamboo is an amazing material and if done right, one of the most environmentally responsible materials on the planet. Bamboo is easy to grow, extremely durable and pesticide free!
Side Note: It's processed bamboo that has a toxic production process similar to viscose. Think bamboo flooring. The bamboo straw we recommend, doesn't use processed bamboo.
The downfall with bamboo is that it can't be recycled. However, all unprocessed bamboo will biodegrade in a natural environment. The decomposition time-frame is a little unknown but some results have it short lived. The company we recommend advises using a commercial composting facility but also points out that a compost bin should do the trick!
One downfall with Bamboo is that it's a little harder to clean compared to the other materials. It can't be machine washed, so make sure you clean it after every use. Dry well as water can cause the fibers to expand.
Bamboo straws are truly amazing and a clear step above the field in our books. They can be reused, the production process causes minimal harm on the environment, they will last a lifetime and biodegrade without negative impacts - sounds good to us! Also, from an aesthetic standpoint, bamboo straws are gorgeous!
As mentioned at the start of the article. These are our personal beliefs and we are for sure biased as we believe in natural products. But that's the point, we buy it because we believe in it!
Recommendation | Bambu
We found Bambu Home through 1% For The Planet and fell in love immediately! Their straws are made of 100% organic bamboo and they were named the most innovative product in 2015 by Eco-Choice! They earned a Gold Seal of Approval by Green America and all bamboo comes from wild groves which are annually audited, and certified organic! Besides straws, they also have a line of bowls, plates, cutting boards and utensils that are 100% biobased and certified by USDA! Best of all, you can compost all bamboo products at a commercial facility or in your compost bin. I mean come on, how cool is that! Oh and they are a certified B-Corporation!
We reached out to Bambu Home with inquires about their ethical principles and they responded with the following, " Part of the annual organic certification audit is a social compliance audit that reviews whether we are compliant in various aspects. This includes age requirements, wage levels, and environment compliance (safe working conditions). You cannot get the organic certification unless you meet the social requirements listed above.".
The straws come in a pack of 6 which means, friends and family get an early Christmas present :)
Bamboo is the clear winner for us but don't take this as a one size fits all. Our goal was to outline our thoughts and provide you with as much information as possible. Just remember, all of these materials are great alternatives to single use plastic straws. So use the one you like and the one that fits your lifestyle!
And as always, explore something different.
Photo Credit In Order Of Appearance: Straws Film, Change.org, Simply Straws, Green Paxx, U Konserve, Aardvark, Bambu