A few months ago we released our Girls that Scuba "Suck on this instaed
" pack of straws in order to help reduce our plastic pollution. GTS contributor Laura Walton from Scubasyche tells us how carrying a metal straw can really make a difference.
Honestly, I was rather sceptical of the metal straw. I didn't really see the point. Why not just refuse a plastic one. Then I remembered how much I love drinking coconuts when travelling, and realised that could be rather tricky without a straw. So I decided to buy some. They come in a neat jute bag that was big enough to also carry my reusable cutlery, and without a gram of plastic in the packaging. This is what I've noticed about travelling with a metal straw.
1. It makes it easier to refuse a straw
It is not always easy to refuse a straw. For one thing, you forget, or you don't expect your particular drink would come with a straw. I ask for tap water in restaurants and never think to say "no straw please". Making the effort to buy and carry your own is at least a reminder not to ask for one.
Then there are language barriers. It's not easy to explain you don't want a straw when you don't speak the local language. Having your own means you can show what you mean more easily. (not that it always works, but we'll come back to that!).
2. You save more than straws
Many people are reluctant to drink from the can or the bottle, because they may have been stored in a dusty cellar, or transported in a container, and there is that risk that rodents or insects have contaminated the outside. Its common to pour the drink into a container for hygiene or social reasons. But if the venue does not offer reusable glasses, then what? Having a straw means you don't need a plastic cup.
3. Cleaning it is easier than you think
When you are travelling, especially in hot countries, you are always going to want to have a bottle of water with you (a re-useable one where possible). After using the metal straw for another drink, simply take a few sips from your water bottle with it. This will give it a rinse to go back in the bag till you can wash properly with detergent and the teeny brush that comes included. Make sure to let it dry.
4. All your drinks taste better
I was pleasantly surprised to find all my drinks tasted better, but then I thought about it. Would you drink a good wine from a plastic cup? No, not if there was a better option. Same with tea or coffee. In fact, studies have shown that the materials utensils have an effect on taste. For example “food was rated as significantly more pleasant, and perceived to be of higher quality, when tasted with a heavier metallic spoon as compared to a metallic-looking plastic spoon”.
5. You will fail. Often.
On my first attempt, I managed to show the waiter the straw and thought I'd won. But the iced tea arrived with not only a straw, but also a large, plastic spoon. On another occasion, I thought I'd cracked it. The iced tea was poured and the server was handing it to me, then at the last moment she briefly touched a plastic straw in the cup, it barely broke the surface. Seeing the expression on my face, she immediately threw the entire drink down the sink saying "oh, no plastic, sorry". I realised, although she remembered, she had no understanding of why I would not want a plastic straw. I can only imagine she thought I was allergic to plastic!?!
6. You won't do it all the time
Sometimes you forget. Sometimes there is a good reason. Sometimes you are just too tired of the whole thing. It's ok. You are still a good person.
Be microambitious and focus on each tiny #plasticfree victory.
7. You will feel stupid on more than one occasion
When the entire cafe is full of people drinking iced drinks in plastic cups with plastic straws, and the take-away ones come with a plastic bag, then it does feel pointless. Getting out the straw and explaining what it's for feels a bit strange. One waiter laughed in surprise when he realised what it was.
But after that, you will feel good. There is a satisfaction about being able to drink your drink without adding one or two (or three, four) more pieces of single-use plastics to the ever growing mountain. It feels a lot better than wondering if that straw you used for 10 minutes ended up in the sea, stuck up some poor turtle's nose.
8. People will be curious
Walking into a cafe and ordering a drink with a metal straw is weird, and it gets attention. That can be uncomfortable at first. But for me, this is in fact the biggest selling point! The thing is, people don't want to be told stuff. If you walked up to the counter and gave the server a lecture on the evils of plastic, they'd nod and smile and ask if you want milk in your coffee, but they wouldn't listen. If you are politely using your metal straw, then they get curious, and curiosity is powerful. Now they actually want to know. That opens up a dialogue.
9. Remember to be sensitive of culture and other perspectives
For some, plastic is a problem of convenience. It's cheap and saves time. Businesses don't need to pay someone to wash dishes. Given up plastic is about taking a bit more time, putting a bit more thought into actions. But for others it is necessity! In many places in the world there is no clean tap water, you have no choice but to buy plastic bottles. In poorer parts of the world people buy foodstuffs and washing products in tiny plastic bags, because they live hand to mouth and literally can't afford to buy a standard sized container. Until basic issues of poverty and clean drinking water are addressed, we ought to be sensitive.
10. Other people are getting it
Sat with my ice-tea (in a mug because they had no glasses) I noticed the person at the table next to me asked the server to pass him a spoon. The server reached for a stirrer and the guy said firmly "no, no plastic, the spoon" (which was metal). I looked up at him and smiled, he noticed my stupid metal straw and smiled back.