Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
Sustainability is a massive trend in the drinks industry right now – and rightly so, given the volume of waste bars generate, and the greenhouse gas impact of your typical distillery.
One small but significant many bars are helping make a difference by eliminating plastic straws - which are made, like all traditional plastics, from fossil fuels. No global calculations exist, but the US alone uses more than 180 billion straws every year. And, as anyone who's ever sworn their way through a beach clean-up learns, straws are disproportionately likely to end up in the oceans due to their small size, contributing to the 8 million tonnes of plastic garbage that pollutes our seas each year.
In honour of Earth Day, here are ten alternatives to those evil plastic straws.
Perfect for fresh coconuts, juices and tropical cocktails, the stem of the papaya leaf makes a beautiful natural straw - if you're lucky enough to live where they grow. Pluck a leaf from the tree, cut the leaf away from the stem, then rinse the areas where the stem was cut to avoid the taste of sap.
Fast-growing and, in countries where forests are not being cut down to farm it, highly sustainable, bamboo is Asia's wonder grass. It makes great-looking straws that are perfect for juices and textbook for Tiki if, perhaps, a little organic-seeming for a G&T: Bambaw has dishwasher-safe variants grown sustainably in Bali that also come with a brush. Once they wear out, they compost in a few months.
Compared to metal or bamboo, glass has the advantage that nervous bar-keeps can see whether a straw is clean or not after it comes out of the dishwasher. Available in a range of lengths, diameters, and colours, with bends and without bends, reinforced (and dishwash-friendly) glass straws can cost well under £1 each on Amazon: look for ones made of borosilicate glass, the equivalent of Pyrex.
For a dose of Studio 54 and the glorious 70s, invest in stainless steel straws - although, as wastrels may snaffle the shorter versions, they're best kept for longer drinks. Amazon has a pack of eight bent stainless-steel straws for just a couple of quid - perfect for highballs. Titanium and sterling silver straws are also available to folk who want to ultra-premiumise a luxury drink.
Compostable, biodegradable and made from renewable resources, Aardvark Straws are paper straws - but not as you know it. They're durable enough to last up to three hours in cold drinks; they bend; they come in 200-odd colourways from neutral black through to Tiki crazy; and the company offers tasty bulk discounts to businesses.
Whatever you're spending on straws - and let's hope that's not a lot - you're likely to spend more if you move to sustainable straws. So it makes economic, not to mention sensory, sense to serve drinks without straws. If guests in your market actually want a straw (or straws), offer them on request - you might be surprised how few actually care.
The drinking straw got its name from the tubular stem of the wheat plant, also known, when dried, as straw. Several companies around the world are trying to bring this deceptively simple, 100% compostable solution back, although natural variations in diameter means it's not one for the control freak. Straw By Straw's straws are organically grown, and the perfect accompaniment to retro drinks of all shapes and sizes.
A range of straws are marketed as made from "biodegradable plastics" and, whether that's PLA (polylactic acid), chitosan, or another non-fossil plastic alternative, they sound amazing. Unfortunately, most bioplastics will only biodegrade quickly under certain conditions - such as the very hot temperatures generated in an industrial composter - and most can't be recycled either, meaning they'll be swishing around in the ocean interfering with sea creatures for years, just like standard plastic.
Recently funded on Kickstarter are a new range of straws that promise to be flavoured, edible and, apparently, as biodegradable as banana peel. The Loliware straws will ultimately come in two styles: clear and flavourless, like classic plastic straws, and in a range of flavourings to pair with drinks. If they manage to actually make them, and they last, this could be a fantastic gimmick.
If your kids love colourful plastic straws, and tend to chew on them, then silicone straws, available in a range of gaudy colours on Amazon, could be the way forward in the home, if not the workplace. While hard to recycle, silicone produces around nine times less greenhouse gases than its plastic equivalent, so makes a more sustainable choice.