A stylish cocktail with a natural bamboo straw (Photo: Kim Kalliber)

Plastic straws are being banned throughout the United States. Many people are for it, and it seems just as many are against it. Critics cite the fact that it won’t help save the ocean and that companies are simply packaging reusable straws in single-use plastic bags, while supporters are relieved that more attention is finally being drawn to our bad habits concerning waste.

Whether you support or mock the ban, the fact is that if the ban is helping to change the mindset of how we use single-use plastics, then it’s a very good thing. It’s about changing our habits and taking responsibility for how we treat our environment. Take the plastic bag ban for instance. Not only are there many fun and stylish grocery totes to carry with you to the store, that you can really pack a lot into, but it just feels good knowing that you could be making a positive impact on the earth.

The National Park Service estimates that Americans use up to 500 million straws per year, which to visualize, is enough to fill 127 school buses every single day. Ugh. And they take approximately 200 years to decompose. Recent studies are finding that plastics are now in our food and drinking water. Why are we continuing to support that?

Many businesses, including bars and restaurants, are voluntarily discontinuing plastic straws ahead of the bans to draw attention to the vast negative impact plastics are wreaking on the planet. And we can help by carrying our own reusable straws with us. There are many options including paper, bamboo, glass, stainless steel and even collapsible key chain straws.  Many come with scrub brushes for cleaning and are packaged in natural fiber bags to carry with you. Bamboo utensil and straw sets are available as well.

“I’ve been using eco-friendly straws for quite awhile now,” says Stacie Herndon, OLS co-founder. “Because I use straws at home every day, it made sense for me to find something reusable. My favorites are stainless steel straws, because I can throw them in the dishwasher, and I also use silicone straws. Personally I feel that paper straws are still contributing to the single-use waste problem, although they are perfect for parties and groups.”

One standout product is the bamboo straw. Many of these straws are actually whole pieces of young bamboo stalks, trimmed in various lengths. They’re also available in a variety of widths. Bamboo straw mainly come in two types of finishes: natural wood and polished. Natural fiber straws are not dishwasher safe, but can be washed with soap and set to dry. Pipe cleaners also make handy scrub brushes for these. Polished, cured and treated straws are dishwasher safe and tend to last longer.

While natural bamboo straws will eventually begin to wear out, fray or splinter, you can feel good about tossing them into your compost instead of the garbage. Though be sure to purchase straws made without chemicals and the bamboo has not been grown with pesticides. And beware of letting children use them; always check for splinters. Treated and polished bamboo straws are a better choice for children.

Most of all, how cool do you look sipping on a margarita or pineapple rum drink with a bamboo straw? Why haven’t most of us been doing this already?!

Check out our Eco-Friendly Straws shop guide for links to various types of alternative use straws, and chime in on your straw usage below!

by Kim Kalliber

Kim comes from a fantastic family of vintage collectors, thrifters, artists and very non-professional comedians. She lives in the ‘burbs outside of Seattle with four rescue dogs and a few vintage cars and motorcycles, in a house some deem as overly-full of 50s lamps. She’s a graphic designer and news editor by day and also creates one-of-a-kind custom purses as Kalliber Kustoms. She’s a firm believer in living out loud. Kim is a founding member of the Piston Packin’ Mamas, an all-girl car and motorcycle club in Seattle.