The plastic straw has a lifespan of centuries and is a deadly menace to marine life such as sea turtles. With governments across the globe now stepping up to ban the use of single-use plastics, metal straws have replaced plastic straws but many business owners have discovered that the implementation of this solution has ignored one key aspect of the problem: human habitual behaviour. Underwater360 looks into the behavioural issues behind the reaplacement of the plastic straw.
The plastic straw has a lifespan of centuries. Used once and thrown away, its continued existence in the depths of our oceans is a deadly menace to marine life such as sea turtles. With governments across the globe now stepping up to ban the use of single-use plastics, many restaurants and bars have replaced plastic straws with reusable metal ones.
The Origin of the Straw
5,000 Years Ago: Ancient Sumerians
One of the first brewers of beer, the ancient Sumerians were probably the first to use straws. Using long thin tubes made from precious metals, these metallic straws were used to reach the tasty brew that resided below fermentation byproducts.
1888: Marvin Stone
A manufacturer of paper cigarette holders, Marvin Stone filed the first patent for a drinking straw made out of strips of paper glued together. His company, Stone Industrial (now part of Precision Products Group), started mass producing straws by 1890.
1930s: Joseph Friedman
Inventor Joseph Friedman invented the bendable straw by inserting a screw into a straw, wrapping floss around the straw, then taking out the screw. The Flex-Straw Company started mass producing his design after Friedman patented his invention. Hospitals were among the first to widely employ the use of Flex-Straws as they allowed patients to drink while they were lying in bed.
The Post-WWII Plastic Boom
The invention of plastic and the mass production of plastic items being churned out by plastic factories during World War II meant that there was a massive excess of production capability at peacetime. Turning their attention to the consumer market, plastic household items started to be churned out by these plastic factories, including the plastic straw.
At first glance, this solution seems simple and straightforward enough – swopping out an unrecyclable material with a sustainable, recyclable one. In practice, however, many business owners have discovered that the implementation of this solution has ignored one key aspect of the problem: human habitual behaviour.
More Than a Cost Issue
A lot of business owners have discovered that many customers have the habit of taking their metal straws home with them. With the high unit cost of the metal straws, some establishments have resorted to charging customers for the straws once the customer’s glass comes back to the kitchen with no metal straw in it.
On the surface, this problem appears to be a cost issue that can be easily resolved by including the price of the straw into the drink. However, just charging for the metal straw does not resolve the issue that most consumers do not reuse the metal straw that they have taken from their favourite restaurant. Most of the time, these metal straws end up in a showcase or a forgotten drawer, never to be reused again. Most people simply do not have the habit of carrying around a personal metal straw everywhere they go in case they get thirsty. The carbon footprint of producing a metal straw is enormous. Between the mining of the metal to the smelting and shaping of the metal, the environmental cost of producing increasing amounts of metal straws is just too high to justify its usage as a band-aid to our habit of using disposable straws.
The Influence of Habitual Behaviour
Another habitual behaviour that is not often discussed when it comes to straws is the tendency of some people to chew on their straws. While advocating for the use of metal and even bamboo straws, I have come across several friends who fear for their teeth and insist on using plastic straws as they are compulsive straw chewers. For these quirky human habits, the metal straw solution is a non-starter.
Looking at these human habits, it is apparent that the plastic straw needs to be replaced with a low-cost product that can be single-use, pliable and yet not harmful to the environment. Fortunately, there is such a solution that fits all three conditions – the edible, biodegrable LOLISTRAW straw made by LOLIWARE. Made of a zero-calorie seaweed-based material, the LOLISTRAW does not disintegrate in your drink but can last up to 24 hours in your beverage and has a shelf life of up to two years. In fact, straw chewers might be tickled to find out that LOLIWARE have come up with flavour profiles such as “citrus” and “vanilla dust” – making straw chewing a decidedly tasty experience.
Of course, non-straw chewers can also choose to simply throw the straws away and the LOLISTRAW will turn into soil in a couple of months. The biggest problem now is availability. I don’t have hard figures readily available to see where LOLISTRAW is being used but the penetration rate of the product is easy to see as I’ve not met heard of anyone eating their straws let alone see one. With Asia being one of the hot spots of plastic pollution, more bio-manufacturing firms need to jump onboard the edible straw trend in order for plastic straws to be stamped out effectively for good.