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A Brief History of Plastic Straws


You may have already heard that plastic straws are bad for the environment, but if you are wondering why and how, keep reading to find out.

Sumerians were first known to use straws for drinking beer to avoid sediments from the fermentation of beer. Rye grass straws became popular in the 1800s because it was cheap, but it was not durable. In 1888, a particular Marvin C. Stone patented the paper straw. He started by wrapping paper around a pencil to make a thin hollow tube, and then glued the ends of the paper together. Later on, he built a machine that could coat paper straws with wax so that they would not dissolve easily in liquids. In the 1900s when polio and tuberculosis were rampant, straws became more widespread for hygienic reasons. Finally, in the 1960s when plastic technology advanced, plastic straws dominated the world – cheap, lightweight, convenient, supposedly biodegradable plastic straws.
Photo by Helen Lockhart | Two Oceans Aquarium
Photo by Helen Lockhart | Two Oceans Aquarium
Plastic straws of today are made from polypropylene. This material is sourced from refined petroleum; molecules of propylene gas are strung together to form a solid plastic material. This kind of plastic is lightweight, durable, food-safe, and thermoplastic. This means that it can be melted to form various shapes, and then it can be melted again to form new shapes. So, is it recyclable then? Yes, polypropylene is recyclable, but most plastic straws cannot be recycled. Recycling centers have machines that sort recyclables by size. Plastic straws, as well as plastic bottle caps, slip through the sorter, and end up going to landfill where they remain forever, or the ocean where they may end up floating for centuries or dissolved into microplastic in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Imagine using a plastic straw maybe once a week. Even if only a quarter of the population of the world uses plastic straws, that is 2 billion discarded plastic straws in one week. One straw may not seem that dangerous, but it is exponential in damage. Now, we could wait for a revolutionary recycling center or a machine that could degrade polypropylene quickly, but what we can do right now is to stop using plastic straws. There are many alternatives to plastic straws.

Paper straws are better than plastic straws, but they are still single-use, and they are still made from trees. Glass straws are a pretty addition to your drink, and are infinitely recyclable. They can last years if taken care of properly. Hay straws or straw straws are straws made from the stem of wheat. They are very cheap, single-use but compostable, and sustainable. All of these are great alternatives, but bamboo straws would be the top pick. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant, is organic and compostable, and needs no irrigation, pesticide, or fertilizer – definitely sustainable. Bamboo straws are all-natural, durable, not to mention beautiful, and inherently antibacterial. A point to remember would be these three C’s: Compassion and Consciousness over Convenience. A plastic straw may be available at the snap of your hand, but alternative straws – which may take some effort to acquire, clean, and carry around – will be of great help rather than a nuisance. Plastic straws exponentially damage the environment, like bamboo straws (and other alternatives) can change the world. The little things matter, and they start with you. Get your bamboo straws here.
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With love and compassion, 
Team Karunaki