Straws of Steel

By Carrie Chauhan

208,000: the estimated number of plastic straws we use in Gainesville every day. That’s a lot of little plastic straws. In a year, that puts Gainesville at 75,920,000 straws, give or take. Almost 76 million! That only includes the city, not all of Alachua county, and it doesn’t take into account events like football games.

The good news is there are some pretty easy, inexpensive alternatives. This is still new to people, servers and waitstaff especially, and you’ll get some looks at times. Just consider yourself a trendsetter :).

Drink directly out of the cup. There are a lot of reasons you may not want to do this, but it’s an easy, zero cost solution. In sit-down restaurants, servers may give you straws as they take your drink order. Hand them back with a smile because if the paper wrapper gets wet or dirty, they’ll get thrown away.  

Bring your own straw. And you have choices:  paper, stainless steel, plastic or bendable silicone. My favorite is stainless steel.  

 Stainless Steel Straws

With young kids, having a proper lid on a drink is the only sane way to dine. I purchased a four-pack of stainless steel straws on Amazon, two for home while 1-2 travel in my purse. I keep them in a small bag so they don’t get dirty. Almost all stainless steel straws are sold with a brush to clean them, and after that you can also put them in the dishwasher. Only once have I left a straw in a restaurant, and it was unusual enough that they held it for me and I came back for it. They are heavy and a different color than plastic straws, so it makes them a little harder to forget.

There are also silicone reusable straws, but I prefer the durability and cleanliness of the stainless steel. If you have a toddler who likes to chew on straws, silicone might be a good investment until they’re ready for stainless steel. Silicone are often a wider diameter and can work better for thick drinks like smoothies.

 Silicone Straws

Paper straws are another option, and I do keep some at home for emergencies or parties. Most likely single use, they are often not recyclable in your orange bin. Look for brands that are compostable and biodegradable.  

Bring your own reusable cup with a straw. This is even better in places where you would get a plastic or styrofoam cup and plastic lid. At sit-down restaurants this is challenging, but for restaurants where you are getting your own drink anyway, keeping a cup or two in the car can help with not just straws, but single use cups and plastic lids. Some restaurants like Zoe’s will give a discounted drink price for bringing their cup.

And while these things are changes we have to work into our daily lives, it’s like taking reusable grocery bags to the store. I had trouble remembering at first, but now it’s a habit and I rarely forget them. Replacing plastic straws can be the same way.

Source for average rate of straw usage in the U.S.: NPS Commercial Services


Take Action

Now that you know your options, be part of the movement to reduce the use and waste of disposable plastic straws. Join the Be Straw Free campaign and take the pledge to go strawless!