How 5 Plastic Straw Alternatives Compare With Water and Iced Coffee


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Aug 03, 2023

How 5 Plastic Straw Alternatives Compare With Water and Iced Coffee

Plastic straws have garnered a bad rap over the past few years. As Insider

Plastic straws have garnered a bad rap over the past few years. As Insider previously reported, images of marine animals such as sea turtles with plastic straws stuck in their noses routinely go viral, bringing conversations about their dangers to the surface.

But straws are just one part of the larger, more pressing issue of how much damage single-use plastic as whole causes our oceans and environment. According to data from National Geographic, over 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations every year. From there, they are slowly broken down into smaller and smaller pieces known as microplastics, which can wreak havoc not only on marine life but the humans that end up consuming them.

One way to be part of the movement away from single-use plastics, especially when it comes to straws, is to opt for alternatives.

From steel to glass, business appears to be booming in the single-use plastic alternative straw field.

This is helped by the fact that in the UK, where I live, single-use plastic straws are banned. And it's not just the UK – in July, California became the first state to pass a sweeping law to reduce single-use plastics, banning plastic bags, and discouraging the use of plastic straws, The Guardian reported.

With the global movement to distance ourselves from the plastic straw past, I decided to test our five different alternatives to compare how each fared in water and coffee. The materials I chose were: glass, steel, silicone, paper, and wheat.

In order to rank each plastic straw alternative, I came up with three categories. The first was durability. Did the straw visibly change its physical condition when I used it and could I use it repeatedly?

The second category was mouthfeel – did the straw material change the way my drink tasted, how did it feel to drink from it, and was it easily chewed?

Finally, and probably least importantly – the aesthetic. This category was basically me asking myself: did I like the way it looked?

To get a fuller picture, I also tried each straw with two drinks: water and iced coffee.

Overall, the silicon straw fared well.

Being machine washable, it's durable and made for long-term use. It came with a handy brush cleaner, which I found easy to use when I'd finished the test.

Mouthfeel-wise, there was a slight initial taste of plastic when I first drank water using it, but I'm under the impression that would be reduced over each use. I also couldn't taste it when drinking the coffee with it.

I'm a person who often ends up unconsciously chewing my straws, so this was perfect – I could chew away and the straw wouldn't be permanently damaged.

However, when it came to aesthetics, I didn't feel particularly cool using the straw, which was quite bendy. But I could see it being a fun alternative to plastic straws for children.

Silicone straws are incredibly bendy, so if you wanted to use it for a cocktail or even to stir up a coffee, which I later did, it's not the easiest thing to maneuver.

After taking a sip of both my water and iced coffee, I knew the glass straw was going to be the one to beat.

It felt durable enough to withstand a dishwasher, and just like the silicone straw, the pack came with an additional cleaning brush. Being completely transparent, I loved the idea that I can visually see how clean the straw is.

It also prevented me from doing my habitual straw chewing. While I did like that about the silicone straws, it does feel like a habit I should probably put an end to.

But most of all, I loved the aesthetic of the straw. I liked the sound of it clinking in my glass and against the ice.

Bendy straws can be fun, but in the long run, I much preferred how solid and durable the glass straw was.

In nearly every category, the stainless steel straw matched the glass straw. It felt durable, it didn't change or affect the taste of my drinks, and the material prevented me from chewing away at the straw itself.

My only worry with the stainless steel straw was not seeing the interior – having used the glass straw, I realized I really like how transparent it is.

Who knew how buoyant wheat straws could be? Not me. But after putting them in both water and iced coffee, it's all I could notice, which detracted from its aesthetic.

When it came to the durability factor, the wheat straw also couldn't compare to the glass, steel, or even silicone plastic straw alternatives. Since they were labeled as being biodegradable, it didn't seem like they were intended for multiple uses and there wasn't any guidance on how or if they could be cleaned. I also could imagine the straws getting stuck in or breaking apart if put in a dishwasher.

The one thing I can say positively about the wheat straw is that it didn't change the flavor of my drinks, so at least it got a point in the mouthfeel category.

Wheat straws are more delicate than I thought, and when it comes to thinking about sustainability and purchasing a straw that I could see myself using again and again, I just couldn't see it being a realistic option.

That said, the wheat straws could be fantastic when hosting parties or larger events where straws can easily be lost. I'd much prefer to hand out drinks with these than glass or steel straws.

The red-and-white paper straws cost £7.99, or around $9, for a pack of 250.

But seeing them in person I was instantly reminded of all the coffee shops that serve drinks with these and, in all honesty, I've never been a fan. I know from experience that when the paper makes contact with a liquid drink, it only takes a few minutes for it to start breaking down.

In all three categories, I ranked it pretty low.

It took less than a minute for me to notice how quickly the straw changed its appearance.

There were clear winners and losers in my quest to determine which of the five single-use plastic straw alternatives is the best.

The wheat and paper straws clearly aren't meant for multiple uses so I ranked them the lowest.

Coming in midway through the rankings were the silicone straws. They were fun as a concept and could be used multiple times, but being as bendy as they are, I couldn't see myself using them again.

Both the glass and steel straws won out in the categories of durability and mouthfeel. Ultimately, however, my personal aesthetic preference meant that glass straw came out on top.

But knowing how big the market for single-use plastic straw alternatives has become, I bet there are plenty more options out there for me to try. So if there are any contenders that you think I should try, let me know at [email protected].

Slide through the following cards to read more expert advice on sustainable living. Then check out the rest of the stories from Insider's Better Me series.

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