The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

February 4, 2011

Plastic-free Drinking Straws: Paper, Glass, & Stainless Steel

Plastic drinking straws are a problem.  Fortunately, from reusable straws made from glass or stainless steel to disposable straws made from paper, there are plastic-free straw options for those who want to avoid plastic straws but are not willing to give up straws entirely.

Paper Drinking Straws

While on my trip this week, I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom and discovered paper straws. Yep. Disney offers guests Aardvark paper straws at its Animal Kingdom park to protect the animals from ingesting plastic straws that, despite the Disney staff’s best efforts, might escape into the environment.  (Unfortunately, Disney uses plastic straws in its other parks.)

Aardvark paper drinking straw

These paper straws are not the flimsy things we had in elementary school back in the day. They are sturdy and hold up until your drink is finished.

Aardvark paper drinking straw

According to Aardvark’s website, the straws are made from “a thick paper, then coated to protect them from liquid.” I wanted to know what that coating was, so I emailed the company. Their response: Aardvark straws are “made from FDA food grade materials (paper/wax/adhesive).” In addition, they are “biodegradable, compostable and made in the USA.”

I don’t think it’s a perfect straw. Regardless of whether the materials are safe, it’s still a single-use disposable product. But I do think that in a big group situation where straws will be used, they are a good alternative to plastic. Maybe at a school?

Glass Straws

I carry with me a reusable Glass Dharma drinking straw. It’s a great conversation starter, and when I pull it out at a restaurant, it helps the server remember not to bring me a disposable straw. Glass Dharma straws also some with their own cleaning brush. Read my full review of Glass Dharma drinking straws here.

GlassDharma reusable glass drinking straw

Stainless Steel straws

Some people are wary of glass, worrying that it will break. I’ve never broken a glass straw, but I can imagine that they might not hold up in the hands of kids. A better option for those folks might be stainless steel straws.  My only issue with a stainless steel straw is that since you can’t see through it, it’s hard to know if it’s clean or not.

Whatever your choice, just remember to ask for no plastic straw.

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4 years ago

We should realize that the only way to lessen plastic waste is to use paper straw or reusable straws. The amount of plastic floating in our ocean is very depressing to our marine animals. It also contributed to the destruction of their natural habitat. I cannot imagine how terrible it is to live in a very polluted environment. Let’s start by using eco -friendly products such as in our daily sip of coffee in our favorite coffee shops. Let’s not wait for the unthinkable to happen, we have to start moving now!

8 years ago

@Sonja Straws a life saver when you’re wearing lipstick though

9 years ago

We’ve got glass and stainless steel straws but I just found some online that are made of bamboo and cost about $10 for a dozen. Great option, very affordable.

Amanda R.
12 years ago

It’s already ice-coffee / smoothie season here in Tucson, and I’ve been searching for a non-plastic cup that I could use my glass straw with, and not have the beverage splashing all over the place if I was on the move. Yesterday, I bought a 20oz. (“venti”) double-walled stainless steel to-go cup from Starbucks – it has a flip-top lid with a hole just big enough for the regular size (9.5mm) glass dharma straw to fit through. The 9″ straw extends about an inch and a half above the lid when resting on the bottom of the cup, and since it’s a snug fit it won’t slip out. Not totally plastic-free (the flip-top is plastic), but overall I’m delighted!

energy conservation
12 years ago

Using paper straws instead of plastic ones is a good idea as the animals are safe. It is very necessary for us to make use of recyclable products in our daily life as it is an advantage for a better environment.

12 years ago

I’m happy that you were happy about those straws at Disney, but as many other commentators I also wonder: why use straws at all?
Here they only used for cocktails and smoothies. If you want one, you can always get one (plastic :-(), but it is not the rule to have one.

My teeth are sensitive too, but I never need a straw for that because drinks are not as icecold here as they are in the US – cultural difference, I guess.

I also don’t understand why children would need straws – if they’re small they have sippy cups for home and for things outside the house, if they’re older they get taught how to drink out of a normal cup – none of my friend’s small children ever had a problem with that. One is currently 21 months old and drinks very carefully out of her cup, like ‘the grownups do it’.

Our Red House
12 years ago

While I applaud Disney for using paper straws, I don’t understand why straws are ever necessary, even for smoothies and milkshakes, especially in the home. I have four kids and we don’t own any straws; glass, metal, plastic or otherwise.

Is it an American thing to use them all the time?

Beth Terry
12 years ago

Lolly, good point! I don’t have one in front of me right now, but they are probably plastic.

12 years ago

What are the bristles on the cleaning brush that comes with the Glass Dharma straws made of?

12 years ago

I am due for a couple of elective procedures, and will need bed rest after them. I am liking that bendy stainless steel number. Makes it so much easier to drink while in bed and being drugged.

12 years ago

This whole conversation is totally making me chuckle. Here’s how far off the beaten path I am… I haven’t had a soda in years!

12 years ago

Well, if they’re made from recycled paper, that would be fine with me. Otherwise, I’m sticking with the glass or no-straw route because, frankly, trees are too important to just throw away…

12 years ago

oh, how wonderful! if only more parks/zoos would use them!

12 years ago

I went to a restaurant this summer in Bar Harbor that served paper straws with their drinks–I was so psyched! (The only other place I’d ever seen paper straws before was two boxes of them at an antiques store!). I get so annoyed when I ask for “no straw” and get it anyway–especially with a margarita–why would I say “yes” to salt, then drink from a straw?

12 years ago

Sea World also uses paper straws – I don’t know if they were coated. Disney only does it at Animal Kingdom because they are just there to protect the animals.
Glass Dharma makes some cool carrying cases for the glass straws.

12 years ago

While kids find straws fun, they are not neater! At least not for my kids. I end up taking the straws away at restaurants to keep down spills and splatters. My kids don’t leave the straw in and every time they pull the straw out the drink splatters. And they still tip the cups to drink so the drink spills through the holes in the lid. Why do the servers do this to me when an adult ordering water, juice or milk just gets a glass with no straw or lid? I’ll have to learn to say “no straws please”

I’ve thought about some washable straws for at home (they discovered the wonder of blowing bubbles in milk at a friends house). But they would just be for special messy occasions. We use spoons to eat our homemade smoothies.

12 years ago

I, for one, love to drink out of a straw. We have some stainless steel ones we use for smoothies, etc.

I was surprised the other day when I went to Ted’s Montana Grill for a work event. There the drinks came with cardboard straws. From their website:

“Ted’s Montana Grill has a deep commitment to the environment and our goal is to be 99% plastic-free. That’s why we re-introduced the paper straw, (not produced in the United States since 1970) and use it in all of our restaurants. Menus are printed on 100% recycled paper. Our to-go cups are made of cornstarch that bio-degrades in landfills in just 50 days. Soft drinks are served in recyclable glass bottles. Our take-away food is placed in Bio-Plus Earth Containers, which are high-quality, bio-degradable containers that are microwavable. These containers have been endorsed by the Green Restaurant Association. In addition to maintaining a 99% plastic-free restaurant, we also try to conserve energy and water. ”

Like any disposables, not perfect, but it is nice to see a business making an effort in this area.

12 years ago

I always forget. The mere presence of a child seems to provoke attacks of plastic, styrofoam and straws. Grrr. And I carry stainless steel ones around with me.

Of course, it’s always a surprise when we order drinks somewhere. We don’t really eat out much. Last night we ordered a coconut water, which usually comes sans plastic and voila! my daughter provoked a plastic straw. Alas.

12 years ago

I have stainless steel straws. I clean them with a pipe cleaner and a little dish soap. We make a lot of smoothies so they seemed like a good idea. I love them but my kids aren’t fans. My 8 year old swears they make drinks taste funny (yet both his silverware and orthodontic appliance are made out of the same stainless steel as the straw) and because his big bro won’t use them, my 3 year old doesn’t like them either. I told them that if they wanted straw these were the option (don’t trust them with glass no matter what I read- maybe when they are older)

Passion Purveyors
12 years ago

We sell these! Even in small quantities. Made in the USA and NO plastic packaging to be found on the box. They even use paper tape. :)

12 years ago

straws exist because you can’t drink slushies or smoothies without them. I have plastic re-usable straws ($store) and have kept pretty much every fast-food straw my daughter and I have accummulated over the years. We keep some in the car, some in the kitchen drawer. They get chucked in the dishwasher or wiped out with a pipe-cleaner; eventually they get a little bend/curve in them. I thought of switching to glass but didn’t know how well they would hold up, bounding around in my purse say or the glovebox; even in a cutlery roll. I have had the plastic straws grow nasties when I have forgotten to rinse them out after making a frozen strawberry slushie; but a little soap and a pipe cleaner fixed ’em right up.

12 years ago

Straws allow for lids, which is good for in the car or little kids (or on a bike, though I don’t drink coffee on my bike i know people who do).

I just got my stainless steel straws this week! I had them on my wish list for 2 years and finally figured out why I never got them – my boyfriend (whose family gives us gifts) said “who would get you that? That’s like a joke gift”. Which made me really sad, but I went ahead and ordered them.

You can’t see that they’re clean but I will probably boil them occasionally to make sure they don’t grow nasties.

12 years ago

Though it’s fine to just drink straight out of the glass (I do that most often) you need to remember to tell the server “no straw.” Usually if you just leave it on the table unwrapped, they’ll just throw it away.


Sarah Johnson
12 years ago

Like Beth said, some people have sensitive teeth, and using straws help. Also, it reduces the amount of liquid in direct contact with the teeth. So if you’re drinking an acidic beverage (like soda or some juices), you can protect your enamel a bit by using straws and reduce surface stains. Other advantages of straws are that they’re neater and reduce spills. Handy if you’ve got a lot of ice (anyone every get a face full of ice trying to sip the last drop of iced tea?) or for young kiddos. Finally, straws were always provided for a lady’s cocktail. That was originally for the bartender’s sake, so that her lipstick didn’t get on the glass, but it also kept her makeup a little neater in the process. I have glass cocktail straws for when guests expect/request one out of habit.

As for the durability of glass straws, I gave a set of Glass Dharma straws to my best friend, who has a 4 yr old son. Every time I visit, he’s sipping his milk with a glass straw. No spills down his shirt, or on the floor, and they’re in perfect condition (no chips, scratches, etc.). And even if they did chip or break, Glass Dharma has a lifetime guarantee and will replace them.

P.S.- I did a quick internet search on the history of straws. They date back to the B.C. era, originally as hollow reeds or straws (hence the name), then metals like silver or stainless steel, then paper, and finally plastic.

Beth Terry
12 years ago

People, people! :-) I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but the reason I like to use a straw is that my teeth are very sensitive to cold, and it’s easier to drink an icy drink with a straw.

12 years ago

I, too, often wondered why some people use straws. Except for under some certain circumstances such as being bed-ridden situations, drinking directly from glass or cup seems fine to me. But, like anything else, I am probably not seeing something. So, since we are on the subject, I am jumping on the opportunity to quench my curiosity; could someone explain this for me? I am not being judgemental. I am just curious. Thank you!

12 years ago

It’s interesting that Disney Animal Kingdom uses paper straws – I was there several years ago (2004 maybe?) and they didn’t have any straws. I think there were signs saying that it was because they didn’t want them to eventually get to the animals (or maybe I’m remembering wrong and this is what we were told when we asked). No one seemed to be complaining, so it’s interesting they went with a straw in the end. And good point – what’s with the plastic straws at every other Disney Park? Sounds like a good letter-writing campaign to Disney…

Kay Pere
12 years ago

OOPS! That should have read “happy to find those PAPER straws” etc.

Kay Pere
12 years ago

I was really happy to find those plastic straws at Animal Kingdom, too.

One of my resolutions for this past year has been to get in the habit of saying “no straw” when ordering a beverage, even water.

Straws really aren’t necessary. Our mouths work just fine drinking from cups without them. The glass and stainless steel ones are certainly better than single-use plastic or even paper. Still, making them requires energy. Remembering to take them and keep them clean requires effort.

I actually bought a set of stainless steel drinking straws through the last time you posted about straws on “Fake Plastic Fish”. When I started using them I realized that they were adding a layer of complexity to my life without giving much back in return. It got me thinking, though, rather than just sipping straw-wise as usual.

Would it be going too far to adopt the motto “Straws Suck!” and just remember to say “no straw” when ordering?

Kevin Wilson
12 years ago

You could also choose not to use a straw at all, and just drink out of the glass. Is there a problem with doing that I’m not seeing?