Environment

Change the Way We Think About Straws

Take a straw if you need one and help us all by disposing of it properly.

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Straws have a place in today’s world—and they’ve had a place in day-to-day life for longer than you’d imagine. The most important thing people can do is to take responsibility for their straw by making sure it’s disposed of responsibly.

History

You might not believe it, but the drinking straw has a history dating back at least to 2500 B.C. Sumerians used four-foot-long straws made of metal, reeds or paper to share what must have been a very large pot of beer.
Travel about 6,000 miles west and fast-forward by more than 4,000 years and you’ll find a man in Washington, DC, sipping a mint julep. He’s using a ratty piece of rye as a straw and gets frustrated at the residue flaking off his makeshift straw and into his beverage, so he decides to do something about it. Like some Sumerians, he invents a straw made out of paper, and unlike the Sumerians, he patents the design in 1888, under the name Marvin Chester Stone, becoming the godfather of the modern drinking straw.

Stone’s design stood for decades, as did his choice of material. Paper was used to make straws until the 1960s, when, just as it happened for countless other products and materials, plastic replaced paper because it was waterproof, flexible and more cost effective.

Today

Since then, there have been bendy straws, Krazy Straws, straws that make water safe to drink and all sorts of other innovations. Today, straws have come under fire in some circles, but the issue with straws isn’t that they exist—it’s that they aren’t always being disposed of properly. That’s something we can all agree poses a problem.

Straws serve a purpose beyond helping people enjoy a drink on the go. Many dentists suggest that if you’re not drinking water, you would be better off using a straw, since straws limit the amount of acid and sugar that comes into contact with teeth, helping prevent dental problems. In addition, many people with short- or long-term injuries depend on straws to help them consume liquids or to help muscle development in the mouth as part of therapies.

Responsible Use and Disposal

The most widely-cited estimate for the number of straws used or discarded in the U.S. per day—500 million—is based on research conducted in 2011 by Milo Cress, who was nine years old at the time. Unlike this estimate, the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) found that from May 19, 2017 to May 19, 2018, there were 16,042,654 straws sold in the U.S. per day, based on Nielsen data.* Regardless of how many straws we use, we can all agree that no matter what a straw is made of, it should not end up as litter. The real challenge is making it easier for everyone to better dispose of straws and other single-use products by enhancing our recycling and recovery technologies.

The focus on single-use products like straws shouldn’t be whether we have them or not but instead that they are disposed of properly. For most of us—right now—that means throwing your straw in a trash can.

Plastics don’t belong on the street or in the ocean. Critics are right when it comes to marine debris and litter—waste hurts the environment and animals. It’s why we’re serious about solving the problem of plastics in oceans and on streets. It’s why we support investing in new recycling and recovery technologies and helping people learn to recycle, so that every product, no matter how small, is put to its highest and best use.

*PLASTICS calculation based in part on data reported by Nielsen through its Strategic Planner – Brand and Item Reports Service for the Straws BC Category for the 52-week period ending May 19, 2018, for the U.S. market. Copyright © 2018, The Nielsen Company.

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