Drinking Straws: Getting to the Bottom of It

Colorful straws

Okay, we’ve muddled through baby bottles, sippy cups, dishes and the like – now what about drinking straws?  Once we started looking at all of the plastic that comes into contact with our food, we eventually realized that we’re surrounded by straws too.  And if it comes in contact with our mouths or our food, we’re going to get to the bottom of it!

A Little History on Straws

With a little research, we learned that straws have quite a history of their own.  Early on, natural rye grass straws were used by beer-drinking Sumerians as filters for solid particulate byproducts of fermentation.  In 1888, Marvin Stone patented the spiral winding process to manufacture the first wax-coated paper drinking straws which were made by hand.  In the 1900’s with the advent of machinery, the ability to automate spiral-wound straws opened the door to the invention of plastic straws.

Plastic Straws

Surprisingly, there are quite a few different types of straws, so we decided to look at the most prolific straw used – the fast food style straw.  The first plastic straws were made using polystyrene (#6), but now polypropylene (#5) or polyethylene (#2) is favored over polystyrene, because polystyrene is brittle and tends to crack easily (just like the famous red Solo-type cups).  One anecdotal way you can tell what type of straw you’re drinking from is to see whether it sinks or floats:  polystyrene is denser than water, causing straws to sink when placed into liquids.  Polypropylene straws are much more flexible, durable and do not sink.  Of course this method is not fool-proof so if in doubt, contact the manufacturer directly to find out what materials are used.

The good news:  most of the current straws are made from either #2 or #5 plastic, the  concern about toxic chemical exposure is low.

The bad news:  environmentally speaking both #2 and #5 plastics are recyclable, but most people don’t recycle and McDondald’s alone served over 50 million meals in 2008!  Can you imagine the sheer number of straws laying in the landfill?

Alternative Straw Options (click images to check them out)

Aardvark Paper Straws Bamboo Straws Decorative Borosilicate Glass Straws by Glass Dharma
Strawesome Kids Smoothie Straw

Strawesome Kids Smoothie Straw

Festive Pyrex Glass Straws by Glass Paradise Bendy Stainless Steel Straws by RSVP Compostable PLA Corn-based Straws by Nature Works

There are so many non-disposable alternatives that will help put a dent in that landfill!

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  • Cindy

    Although nondisposable straws are a great idea… I'm still perplexed as to how you would keep them clean – the inside that is.

  • http://thesoftlanding.com thesoftlanding

    Hi Cindy,

    We clean our with Dr. Brown's vent cleaning brushes the same way we do our sippy cup valves and such. They work great!

    You can find them at our store http://thesoftlanding.com/drbrclbr4pk.html


  • http://tryingtobegreener.wordpress.com/ Kirstin

    The timing of this post is perfect! I was just in a store yesterday and saw straws on the counter. I was hoping they were glass but instead, they were just decorated plastic ones.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the Stainless Steel Straws up on your site so I can buy a few!

  • Joh

    Now that our township has single-stream recycling, I have been recylcing my husbands straws despite the fact I didn't know what they were made of. I am intriegued by the bamboo ones! Not as delicate as glass, nicer on the teeth than stainless? Once again, thanks for the timely research and post!

  • Pingback: » Environmentally Friendly - Healthy Lifestyle and Nutrition tips for Healthy Homes()

  • kiwilog

    Hi! Just wanted to let you know that we over at KIWI Magazine's blog, KiwiLog, loved your post and decided to feature it in our weekly mom blog round-up!


  • http://thesoftlanding.com thesoftlanding

    Hi Kirstin,

    So glad you found the info useful! It was something we've need to tackle for sometime now. Locating the stainless steel straws for our store has been tricky too, but our shipment will be on its way soon!


  • http://thesoftlanding.com thesoftlanding

    Hi Joh,

    Sounds like you had the right idea recycling your straws after all! So glad you found the info helpful. We'd love to hear how you like the bamboo straws if you decided on them, as we've never had the chance to try them ourselves.


  • Gina

    In fear of what danger lurked in straws, we finally just recently taught our daughter to drink from a big-girl cup (no straw!) but I'm thankful to know that our occasional straw use isn't harmful. We try to just not use one, but sometimes when we're on the go, it's just so much easier…and spill-safe.

    Good to know that they can be recycled! Thanks Alicia

  • Gina

    In fear of what danger lurked in straws, we finally just recently taught our daughter to drink from a big-girl cup (no straw!) but I'm thankful to know that our occasional straw use isn't harmful. We try to just not use one, but sometimes when we're on the go, it's just so much easier…and spill-safe.

    Good to know that they can be recycled! Thanks Alicia

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  • BrianS

    Another good cleaner for straws can be got from your chemist.  It may sound a bit “yewww” but they can get you a brush designed for cleaning Urinary Catheters.   Of course these are supplied sterile.  They are very long & the right diameter.

  • Ginastarke

    This is so bad but I can’t help myself:
    red vines candies make great soda straws with both ends bitten off :-)

  • jdarling

    you might be interested in looking into these hard silicone straws by GreenPaxx. They are non-toxic silicone and they come in two pieces for easy cleaning and carrying.

    • http://thesoftlanding.com/ The Soft Landing Sisters

      Thanks for the recommendation! We’re big fans of GreenPaxx products, and we just featured them in our newest blog post and Safe Living newsletter: http://bit.ly/PckJLG

  • unknown

    You can sterilize the bamboo straws by boiling them for 20 min in water with vinegar or run thru a dishwasher cycle and then I would say run cleaning brush or pipe cleaner thru before and after……

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