This is the first instalment in a blog series I’m doing about my own personal zero waste project. Or as zero as zero waste can be, anyway.
Many people see going zero waste or reducing single-use plastics as a daunting task, or something that won’t make any impact. I personally think every little bit helps, and it seems totally doable if you divide the massive task of ‘living a more sustainable lifestyle’ into smaller, more manageable tasks. One thing at a time. Once I’ve completed a task, I move on to the next thing that strikes my interest.
One of the first zero waste swaps I made was straws. Scientists estimate there are anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on the shorelines around the world. Each year, 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die from ingesting plastic. In 2015, a video in which researchers tried removing a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nostril went viral. That video was the last straw for me, literally.
I use straws for one reason and one reason only: to make sure my teeth don’t fall out before my hair starts to grey. Initiating tasks and keeping a solid routine are some of the things that my autistic brain has difficulty with, so you can imagine that brushing my teeth twice a day isn’t the easiest thing for me to do.
For years, I drank 2 to 3 litres (!!!) of sugary iced tea every day. With the help of my mom I finally managed to quit, but I still occasionally drink lemonade (without added sugar, but I trust no one) at home. By drinking lemonade and other sugary drinks out of a straw, I try to make sure that most of the sweet liquid skips my teeth, which can only be a good thing. Straws can also be helpful for people with sensitive teeth.
On the go
When I’m out of the house and I order a drink (which is rare, I prefer my water bottle), I ask for the only drink served in restaurants that I like: a sugary strawberry milk drink called Fristi. A drink usually ordered by children, but you guys know I live on a kids menu.
I still sometimes forget to ask for ‘no straw, please’, and those moments used to make my heart hurt. But no one is perfect, and going zero waste never happens in one go. I now see those moments as learning opportunities: they make me realize that I need to be more vigilant and prepared, and I need to find a way to get it into my system. On my wishlist for my next ‘payday’ is a little cloth wrap to keep my straw in.
Stainless steel or glass?
I bought my straws at Dutch zero waste webshop Bag-Again (no #spon, I just think they’re great). I bought four bendy stainless steel ones, as well as two glass ones that have a wider opening, so they’re perfect for smoothies and juices.
If you want to switch from plastic or paper straws to a reusable straw, I would definitely recommend getting a glass one, even if you don’t drink smoothies. The edges are softer and they’re see-through, so you can tell if they’re clean at a glance. The ones I have are very sturdy: I’ve dropped them a few times while unloading the dishwasher (both kinds are okay in the dishwasher!) and they’re still as good as new. They usually come with a little brush to clean them, though I don’t feel like I need those while I have access to a dishwasher.
Lastly, I want to share with you some tips from Milo Cress, the kid who started the Be Straw Free campaign when he was only 9 years old:
- Order your drinks with “no straw, please.”
- While you are eating at a restaurant, notice how drinks are served to other patrons. Do drinks have straws already in them or are straws offered when drinks are brought to the table?
- If drinks are being served with straws automatically, ask to speak to the manager at the end of your meal after you’ve paid, and suggest that the restaurant ask before giving out straws. Let them know they can save money! If you notice that servers do ask first before giving out straws, thank the manager for this practice.
(Source: Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry)
I realize that switching from single-use plastic straws to reusable ones isn’t doable for everyone, and there are also many people who don’t even use straws at all, so this is far from an essential step. But if you do use straws and are able to switch, definitely do. Every bit of single-use plastic avoided is a good thing.