What are the best alternatives to plastic straws?

A whopping 500,000,000 (500 million) straws are used each day in the United States. That’s enough to fill more than 46,000 school buses, every year.

Many of these straws end up in our rivers and our oceans, where they wreak havoc on marine life. If you’d like to see evidence of the havoc they can wreak, watch this distressing video of a turtle with a straw stuck up its nostril.

Plastic straws take hundreds of years to break down, meaning they will continue polluting our oceans long after we are all gone. In fact, every single straw you’ve ever purchased, or been given in a bar or restaurant, still exists somewhere.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! There are perfectly good alternatives to plastic straws available. Ok, they may not be as bendy, or be as attractive, but you’ll be able to sleep easy knowing they will never need to be pulled out of a poor turtle’s nostril with a pair of pliers.

Here are some great reusable alternatives to plastic straws:

Bamboo Straws

Bamboo is the tallest member of the grass family and is one of the fastest growing plants on Earth. It can reach heights of up to 94 cm in just 24 hours.

Due to its versatility, and the low costs involved in its cultivation, bamboo has been used throughout history for a variety of purposes. It’s an incredibly strong and sturdy plant, and as such has been used in the production of floors, furniture, house walls, skateboards, bicycle frames and helmets, and much more.

Due to its amazing properties, bamboo also makes a great substitute for plastic when it comes to drinking straws.

Things to look out for:

  • Make sure any bamboo straws you buy are from a sustainable, renewable source.
  • Because bamboo is an organic material, it will start to fray and splinter over time.
  • Make sure you inspect the straws before use, particularly when giving them to children.
  • Once they have reached the end of their lifespan, simply compost them, where they will go back into the earth.
BiodegradableHave a limited shelf life
ReusableNot suitable for the dishwasher
Can come in multiple diametersCan sometimes taste a bit ‘wooden’ when wet
Vegan friendlyCan sometimes absorb the color of whatever you are drinking
Come in a variety of thicknesses, ideal for smoothies or cocktails

Paper Straws

In 1888, Marvin C. Stone patented the first modern drinking straw, which was made from wax paper. And for a long time, the paper straw was the only type of straw available. However, with the invention of the plastic straw in the 1960’s, paper straws fell from favor.

The popularity of paper straws has increased significantly since the release of the BBC’s ‘Blue Planet II’. Most paper straws are manufactured in China, but in early 2018, The Paper Straw Co became the first factory to start making paper straws in the UK for decades.

And in the US, paper straw producer Aardvark saw a growth of nearly 5000 per cent in one year, as more and more people began waking up to the dangers posed by plastic straws.

While it’s true they are not as durable as their plastic counterparts, paper is a much more environmentally friendly material than plastic, and can biodegrade in a matter of weeks.

Things to look out for:

  • In an effort to make paper straws more durable, some manufacturers will treat them with chemicals. If this concerns you, always check the product description.
  • Not all straws are created equal. The level of durability of paper straws will vary from straw to straw. I suggest reading the reviews of any paper straws you’re thinking of purchasing, to gauge how long you can expect them to last before becoming soggyAdvantagesDisadvantagesBiodegradableHave a limited shelf lifeReusableNot suitable for the dishwasherCan come in multiple diametersCan sometimes taste a bit ‘wooden’ when wetVegan friendlyCan sometimes absorb the color of whatever you are drinking

Stainless Steel Straws

If you’re after something a bit more rugged than bamboo or paper straws, then a pack of stainless steel straws might be the right option for you.

Popular with campers, these sturdy straws should last you a long time if cared for properly. They are dishwasher-safe, and most packs will come with a brush for cleaning the inside of the straws.

Stainless steel is a hard, unbendable material, so this type of straw probably isn’t suitable for something like a child’s birthday party. I would recommend this product for adults only.

Lasts a lot longer than the alternativesMore expensive per straw than the alternatives
Dishwasher safeCan feel cold and hard to the mouth
ReusableCould potentially damage fragile glasses and cups
Can be recycledSome people report they can leave a metallic taste in the mouth
They come in a range of sizesSome people report the straws can be sharp – potential for cutting the lips or mouth
The hardness of stainless steel means it’s possible to chip a tooth if not careful
Can become very hot when used with a hot drink

Glass Straws

Glass drinking straws are usually made from borosilicate glass, which means it will not crack under extreme temperature changes.

This means you could potentially reuse your glass straw for many years before having to replace it. Think of how many plastic straws you would have gone through in that time!

They are dishwasher safe, and most come with a small brush that can be used for cleaning the insides of the straws.

Like stainless steel straws, they do not bend and can feel quite hard against the lips. They are probably not suitable for young children, because left unsupervised they could hurt themselves with the hard glass straw.

ReusableMade from a very hard material – could potentially chip a tooth
Made from borosilicate glass – a very durable materialIf using with a frozen drink, they can become very cold
Dishwasher SafeNot suitable for young children to use unsupervised

Silicone Straws

Ok, ok, so we’re cheating with this one. Silicone is indeed a type of plastic. But at Eradicate Plastic, our problem isn’t the substance itself. Rather, it’s the fact plastic has become so disposable; use it once then chuck it.

If you absolutely can not live your life without a plastic straw (really!?), then we’d suggest opting for a reusable silicone straw. If you treat it carefully and look after it, your silicone straws could last for years, saving hundreds of disposable plastic straws from being thrown away.

We would urge you to first look at the alternatives found further up the page before looking into silicone straws.

Soft, brightly colored, bendyThey are made from plastic, which means they will not decay for hundreds of years
Dishwasher safe