When it comes to straws, there’s no better way to voice my frustration in their existence and my belief that they are obsolete, for fully abled adults at least, than with the words of Jerry Seinfeld: ”How lazy can you be? You have about two inches from the glass to the end of the straw – do you need that extra help?” Alas, there are fresh young coconuts, bubble teas and smoothies to be drunk, so if you are so inclined to suck, here’s the low-down on the plastic-free options out there.
The pasta straw ☆☆☆
The pasta straw should be the talking point at your next party. Taste-test results concede to a starchy aftertaste, but it does not overly offend the senses. It’s sturdier than a paper straw, and if you steep one side in hot water, you can fashion a bendy straw too.
The metal straw ☆☆☆☆☆
Stainless steel and eco-chic. We believe this is the most hygienic of all the options; most metal straws are sold with a cleaner that makes it easy to clean on the go. It’s also designed to last a lifetime, and being a valuable material, it can be effectively recycled should you decide to part ways one day. The drawback for restaurants is that it takes extra time to ensure that they’re clean, meaning hiring extra staff to hand-wash them, which many businesses do not have the capacity to do.
The paper straw ☆☆
Many restaurants have now made the switch to paper straws. Although it’s great to see the collective efforts to move away from plastic, the production still requires energy and resources from cutting down trees, turning wood into pulp, processing, bleaching, dyeing and then shipping (most of the time across the world), only for a paper straw to sit and disintegrate before your eyes on your very first drink. For now, it’s one solution to turn off the plastic tap, but it’s still contributing to the disposable lifestyle from which we need to move away.
The bamboo straw ☆☆☆
We did a taste test at Foodie HQ, and the general consensus was that it “tastes like nature”. If you desire earthy flavours with your drink and want to look hip while sipping, bamboo is the way to go. Hygiene and durability are a concern here, and even with the claim of bamboo’s natural antibacterial qualities, there is a risk of mould in hot and humid weather. Plus, bamboo straws are only expected to last for around a year.
The Twizzler straw ☆☆
Feel like a child again and sip away at the cinema with a Twizzler straw. One taste tester claimed that “it’s not as gross as you might think”, subtly infusing your drink with a strawberry flavour. Though if you did not grow up eating these artificial-tasting sweets, you may be offended by its garish presence.
The bio straw ☆
Made mostly from bio-based raw materials (69%), Bio-Pot straws do not contain petroleum-based fillers, which enables them to be composted. Not to be confused with PLA plant plastic, if these straws do end up in the landfill, they will take 18–21 months to decompose. They also have a shelf life of 22–24 months, provided they are stored in cool, dry conditions. Currently, in Hong Kong, regular plastic straws cannot be recycled (hence most establishments are making the switch to plastic-free straws), resulting in all straws being sent to landfills. It takes an industrial facility 60 days to effectively compost Bio-Pot straws, but since HK does not yet have this facility, tests are still being made with traditional composters to see how long they take to break down. It is also currently unclear how they will break up in the ocean (if there is a chance of mismanaged waste), as materials break down differently on land than in water. Needless to say, it’s a confusing grey area on whether these are actually good for the planet, but similar to the paper straw, this is an immediate switch a business can make to move away from single-use plastic. The bio straw comes in regular black or thermo white, allowing you to sip on a hot drink too, though I wonder how many hot-sipping maniacs there are in the world to warrant such a demand.
The natural reed straw ☆☆☆☆
This is literally a reed, adding to that Midwestern farmer look I was hoping for. With its small circumference, you may find yourself sipping all night, but all jokes aside, I approve of this single-use straw because you can truly throw this one on the side of the road and know that it will naturally biodegrade (though I don’t recommend littering, so it’s better to treat it like food waste and compost it). This is a by-product of rye and wheat production, yet, ironically, it’s more expensive than paper and bio straws because the cleaning and drying processes are more costly.
The silicone straw ☆☆
Baby blue or pink and large enough for your bubble tea, these are the cutest straws we’ve come across. But their floppy nature really doesn’t feel right, and silicone has the tendency to take on strong flavours that are difficult to wash away. Silicone straws are also suitable for hot beverages (but why?) and designed to last many years.
From left to right: pasta straw, metal straw, paper straw, bamboo straw, bio straw, skinny bamboo straw, bio straw, Twizzler straw, skinny bamboo straw, bamboo straw, silicone straw
Don’t suck as a business!
The most effective way to reduce plastic consumption? Whichever plastic alternative you choose, introduce a “straw on request” programme at your establishment.
Hannah Chung is currently on a zero waste challenge; she seeks eco-alternatives and green solutions for everyday living and aims to achieve a zero waste life. Follow her journey on Instagram @thezerowastechallenge