The Short Straw – Alternatives to the plastic straw.
There is, quite rightly, a bit of a war on single use plastics going on these days. I’m fully on board with the idea that no turtle should have to swim around with a plastic straw stuck up her nose* and so are the EU who have put in place legislation to end the sale of single use plastics which, naturally, includes straws and drink stirrers by 2021. Us cocktailistas should join in and make it our mission to save the planet – one cocktail at a time. So what are the responsible alternatives? One option is simply not to use straws at all but a) if a guest wants a straw they should get a straw b) it’s simply barbaric to drink a crushed ice cocktail such as a Caipirinha or Mai Tai without one. This brings us to the central problem: While there are plenty eco options for long drinks the traditional short “sipping” or “stirring” straw is a specialised instrument for use with drinks served in a double old fashioned glass which has far fewer plausible replacements. Requirements are for a short straw of about 12cm/5” with a narrow bore to allow the imbiber to enjoy the cocktail at a leisurely pace, to prevent the up-suction of small chunks of ice and with sufficient rigidity to stir the drink as the ice melts. Let’s look at some options.
Hey, can’t we just snip a regular paper straw in half!? No. Paper straws suck. They get soggy. And they’re still single use. Game over paper. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 whadevas.
On paper these look like a good option. They get top marks for hygiene as you can put them through a dishwasher without damaging them. Of course they are very durable and rigid but with that comes their big problem: sooner or later you or a guest are going to get poked in the gum or lip (or eye if you’re particularly careless/drunk) with a hard and unforgiving shaft (you’re damned right!) o’ ice cold steel. Hmmm. Another problem is that it’s quite difficult to find any that are as narrow as I’d like. Not a bad option but you need to be careful.
Fast-growing bamboo is overflowing with ecological credentials such as sustainability and bio-degradability. Bamboo straws look great in Tiki drinks which are often crushed ice based and thus the very category where a straw is pretty essential. I’m a big fan of bamboo straws but they do have a couple of downsides: They can be hard to find in shorter lengths and with consistently narrow bores (being a natural product they vary quite widely in aperture). As they are a semi-porous natural substance I remain to be convinced of their long term hygieneosity and durability. Visually attractive and very probably the greenest option but certainly no panacea.
Huh? I know. Some enterprising cocktail fans have put some thought into this very problem and come up with these silicone straws. They fit the brief perfectly in terms of the length and bore with the bonus of an angled end which helps keep the precious liquid flowing at the right pace without blocking. Hygiene isn’t an issue with non-porous silicone and they can go in the dishwasher if needed. Silicone is clearly not going to injure you like steel might but it does bring up my main quibble. While they are marketed as being firm enough to stir with I still found them to be a bit on the floppy side – you can stir with them but it just feels a bit weird. They are available in six straw packs of the three neutral colours shown (I’m pleased they resisted the temptation to get all garish) or in a mixed colour pack. I’m definitely a fan but just wish they were a bit more rigid.
Ultimately all of the above – apart from dismal paper – are viable alternatives with different advantages and disadvantages. Per-straw prices are in the same ballpark so ultimately you pay your money and you take your choice but for goodness sake choose at least one option and leave those poor turtles** alone!
*Some of my best friends are turtles.
**Turtles rock! Other sea creatures also need help.