Down with Paper Drinking Straws

Paper drinking straws will not save the universe.
Paper drinking straws will not save the universe.
Scott Reitz

I get it: It's 87 degrees in January and it hasn't rained since the early '1990s. We all should be conserving. But considering the overflowing dumpster the size of a short bus behind every restaurant in America, I'm having a hard time thinking drinking straws are where we should focus our efforts.

Restaurants are switching to paper straws and touting their environmental do-goodery as some epic step toward reducing waste and saving the sea turtles. "Paper straws cost more, but we're doing it anyway," Snappy Salads actually said in a press release, before they served up a salad in a plastic to-go bowl. And this is supposed to make me feel good about the soggy paper pulp I'm gumming while wrestling with my beverage?

If we must deal with the evil straws, how about no straws? Even if paper straws are biodegradable, we still use a ton of energy to manufacture and ship them. Humans have been consuming liquids without air pressure-differential-activated tubes for thousands of years. If straws are really a big problem, why don't we just stop selling them?

Sure, parents whose upholstery has been spared by drinking straws from blood red juice drink will grab a biodegradable pitchfork, drive their SUVs to the Observer office and protest, but when they do, I'll just point to a picture of a sea turtle. They always make that sad, guilt-inducing frowning face, especially when they're choking on a straw.

Or we could even just try to reduce our consumption of straws, because our straw consumption has gotten a little crazy. Nearly every drink ordered at a bar comes with not one but two cocktail stirrers that are promptly tossed on a cocktail napkin and then tossed in the garbage. It all adds up to 500,000,000 plastic straws, according to people who count such things. Why not make customers request their straws? And then we can quietly judge them while pointing to a picture of a frowning sea turtle.

But let's not pretend that spending a few extra cents on a terrible, terrible paper alternative is having a measurable impact on a restaurant's impact on the environment. Not when reducing straw consumption is a significantly better (but harder to market) option. Especially when almost every ingredient is shipped to a restaurant in plastic, before it's portioned out and wrapped in plastic wrap, before it's tossed in a plastic trash bag and hauled to the dumpster and forgotten.

The solution isn't in replacing plastic products with a hipper, more environmentally friendly replacements. It's in letting go of and reducing our need for the product in the first place. Or inventing a cool titanium iStraw. Anything but paper.


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