I Stopped Using Straws Completely

What is necessary and what is simply out of convenience?
PHOTO: istockphoto

Back in high school, I participated in a mangrove cleanup as part of a school requirement, and most of the trash collected were plastic straws. This was in 2008. I became more conscious of my use of plastic straws, and tried to lessen it . I didn't use them unless they were automatically placed in my drink. I also gave back sealed straws. It wasn't until I actively started practicing zero waste in 2016 that I took extra steps to ensure I didn't end up with a straw in my drink.

Buying a reusable straw doesn't make you an advocate for the environment if you don't actually refuse the disposable kind and forget to bring around your reusable one.

One of my first zero waste switches is a reusable steel straw that I used to bring with me every time I left the house so I didn't have to use a plastic one. Soon, I realized that I don't really need the steel straw because I don't mind having no straw in my drink at all… but this is a personal preference. When I forgot my steel straw at home, I ate smoothies with a spoon. I understand, however, that people want options and luckily, in the past year, there has been a surge in online retailers selling reusable options like stainless steel, bamboo, glass and siliconein different sizes, shapes and colors. 

For a long time, I advocated for people to switch to a reusable straw because it's probably the easiest thing they could do to lessen their plastic waste. It's also a good way to open the topic of how much unnecessary plastic we consume just because it's convenient and we've gotten used to it. But buying a reusable straw doesn't make you an advocate for the environment if you don't actually refuse the disposable kind and forget to bring around your reusable one. It's not that hard to go through your day without using a plastic straw (or a plastic water bottle for that matter) if you make a habit of it.

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There's no right way or wrong way to go plastic-free, but my biggest peeve would be doing this just for the 'gram, where you look like you care but actually, it's all just self-serving.

Lately, I've been noticing that a lot more people have been jumping on the reusable straw trendeither for the right reasons or just because it's an aesthetic. And the latter is what irks me about being eco-friendly being a trend. It's greenwashing, and what's worse is companies do it, too.

For example, Starbucks made a recent announcement that it's ditching plastic straws across all its stores globally by 2020. Cool, until you realize they're replacing it with a plastic sippy cup lid, which requires more plastic. They claim it's recyclable but not all cities will have the technology to do that so, really, it's pointless. 

There's no right way or wrong way to go plastic-free, but my biggest peeve would be doing this just for the 'gram, where you look like you care but actually, it's all just self-serving. I would consider it counter-productive to use your steel straw only to poke a hole in your bubble tea drink with a plastic one: 

Complete plastic straw bans may not even be the answer because it's one of the safest options for kids and people with motor disabilities. I think we should be more flexible in our options and only use it if we really need it. And let's face it, most of us don't. The debate on plastic straws boils down to questioning what is necessary and what is simply out of convenience. Just decline the disposable straw. If you must, invest in a reusable one.

I decided to reduce the amount of plastic I used in my daily life, including straws, bags and water bottles among other things, because I realized that we developed using things for a short amount of time only to throw them away. But "away" is open dump sites or landfill, it's in esteros, rivers, and the ocean. It's affecting nature negatively and it’s all because we choose convenience (knowingly or unknowingly).

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How you can avoid plastic straws when dining out

Although the success rate isn't 100 percent, here's how I make sure I don't get a straw in my drink:

  • Request for my drink to come without a straw "kasi may dala po ako" (even if I don't)
  • Ask them to repeat back the order to me, including the "no straw" request so they remember it
  • If I feel like they still would put a straw in, I, embarrassingly, go up to the bar to make sure na 'di talaga nila ilalagay yung straw sa drink ko

Do the above steps nicely! And if they still get your order wrong and add a straw, don't cause a scene just to seem like you're morally on higher ground for trying to reduce your waste. Servers still deserve your respect even if they make a mistake. I do this because it's the training most restaurants give their staff, and to them, it's protocol. Causing a scene won't help and it's best to speak to management in regarding change in policy.

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