The Last Straw?

The Last Straw?image preview

Until recently I never gave much thought to this scenario, have you? You go to a restaurant and ask for an iced water or soft drink and it arrives with a plastic straw. This is the way drinks are served in restaurants. It’s become routine. You don’t even have to ask. But, according to the Last Plastic Straw, 500 million single-use plastic straws are discarded every day, or 175 billion (with a B) per year. And that’s just in the U.S. alone. So do we really need a plastic drinking straw every time we take a sip of a beverage? Before you answer, consider the impact:

What happens to all this single-use plastic? Regrettably because they are so light, it is difficult to recycle plastic straws and consequently, many (along with other plastic items) find their way into the ocean and eventually into the bellies of whales and other aquatic life who think the floating debris is food. The video circulating on the internet of the sea turtle trying to get a plastic straw extracted from his nose is hard to watch.

I grew up as fast food restaurants were starting. The move from fine dining to fast food has only exacerbated the use of plastic straws. Because you can’t take that double chocolate mocha latte with caramel drizzle to go without a plastic straw. Not to mention the plastic cup and lid.

Finding Plastic Straw Alternatives

I am a firm believer that millennials will be the group that will help us transitions away from single-use plastic products and waste and find a viable solution to what is becoming a worldwide problem. Members of my staff have been leading the charge locally to not ask for straws, to raise awareness among friends, and to call on our favorite dining establishments to consider offering straws only upon request. That’s a reasonable request.

The good news is that many firms are beginning to turn the tide on plastic straws:

  • McDonalds is eliminating single-use plastic straws in Britain and Ireland. Later this year they expect to replace plastic with paper straws in their 14,000 U.S. locations.
  • Alaska Air is the first airliner to replace plastic straws with recyclable straws made from white birch or bamboo.
  • Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines have similar plans. Read their strategy here.

So what can you do? These suggestions are painless and can make an impact.

  • When ordering a beverage at a restaurant, say “no straw please.”
  • If a straw is a must, carry a reusable one.
  • If you insist on a straw, keep it when you order a refill rather than getting a new one.
  • Tell your friends about the growing problem.
  • I am told straws made out of dried pasta can be an alternative – check it out here.

What do you think? Do you have a thought or a solution for the single-use plastic products problem? Tell us in the comments below. For more information, or for more ideas, visit

We hope you’ll look for our story on single-use plastics with solutions in the 2019 Farmers’ Almanac. Preorder your copy today!

Peter Geiger is the Editor of the Farmers' Almanac. Read his full biography.

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8 months ago

The reason for plastic straws is simple, $$$. Plastic straws were cheaper than the paper straws we once had that were wax coated to last long enough to finish a drink without going limp. So an alternative is a great idea. But, at what cost? Not sure who will develop the next cheap alternative with the decline of interest in the sciences in the USA. Obviously the material needs to be biodegradable. The other obvious thought is better care in disposing of the current plastic items. Here’s a thought if most of the current liquid containers are wax coated why can’t straws be made from the same material.

Susan Higgins
Susan Higgins
8 months ago
Reply to  Daryl

Hi Daryl, having a reusable straw seems to be a better answer. Bring your own with you. It doesn’t have to be disposable. Single use items made out of a material that was invented to last forever was not a smart move.