This article is a little different compared to most reusable straw posts. We start with the assumption that you're already a conscious consumer and your 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, creating waste seems to be their only real purpose. They get used once, tossed and forgot 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 actually 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 | So close
While glass straws are cool, they cannot be recycled.
All glass straws found in our research are made from tempered glass, the same glass as Pyrex. Tempered glass is made of a unique chemical composition that gives it extreme durability and heat resistance. While this seems logical, those same chemicals prevent it from melting and being broken down. If recycled with other glass, it will damage the recycling machine and leave the entire batch of regular glass ruined.
Tempered glass goes to the landfill where it can take thousands of years to degrade.
We would consider tempered glass if it could last a lifetime but, as you know, even your Pyrex bowl chips or breaks. However, if you take good care of your straws and can make it last a lifetime, buy it! It just doesn't work for us.
We should also note that tempered glass is extremely easy to clean and dishwasher safe!
Simply Straws is one of those companies that you love from the beginning.They are a B-Corporation and members of 1% For The Planet! They use toxic-free dyes in their glass, all packaging is compostable, and all energy is off-set by wind and solar! Besides straws, they also make straw sleeves and koozies made of fair trade organic hemp, flax, and cotton - love these!
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