Straws

plastic straws recovered from Point No Point and Schel-Chelb Estuary, WA, photo by Liesl Clark

by Rebecca Rockefeller

We’re not against straws; it’s undeniably fun to drink through a straw, they’re useful for bedridden people, and there are all sorts of projects and reuses for straws. So why a week focused on straws? Because single use plastic straws are one of the most common plastic items we find on our beaches and in our watersheds. We humans might like to drink from straws, but other creatures don’t do so well when they eat pieces of our plastic straws that they’ve mistaken for their regular food.

Straws have their own ancient and modern history: The oldest known straw, made from gold and lapis lazuli, came from a 3,000 BCE Sumerian tomb along with a drawing of men drinking beer from a jar using what look like straws. Closer to today, the bendable straw was invented in the 1930’s by a father whose young daughter was struggling to drink her fountain parlor milkshake through a straight straw.  He used a screw and a piece of dental floss to create the first articulated bendable paper straw at home, then founded a company to mass produce his invention. His first order came not from a soda shop or restaurant but from a hospital where nurses were looking for ways to help bedridden patients drink more easily.

We have tips on going without and reducing your use of single-use straws below, along with links to durable and compostable straws that are our Trash Backwards writers’ favorites (these are personal recommendations, not paid for in any way by the companies that produce them). To wrap it all up, we have a list of ways to reuse the single-use plastic straws that are already floating around our world.

Send us an innovative, durable plastic-free alternative to single use straws, or a creative reuse for old plastic straws and we’ll add it to our growing list. The more viable ideas we have for new life for old plastic straws, the better for us all.

REDUCE YOUR USE

  • Lips, the original straw! Give this a try: The next time you’re looking at a full glass of something delicious and thirst-quenching, skip the straw and put your lips to the rim to take a nice old sip. Give your lips a nice smack and ask yourself if that didn’t feel even more rewarding than a sip through a plastic straw would have.

A simple glass of water is a treat with a straw from Glass Dharma

  • Glass straws from Glass Dharma are a durable and beautiful plastic-free option. They’re dishwasher safe, won’t freeze to your lips when you’re slurping up a smoothie, they’re made in the USA, and each comes with a lifetime replacement guarantee in case of breakage (my family hasn’t managed to break one yet, and we’ve been using ours for almost two years now).

    We love Glass Dharma glass straws, Photo by Liesl Clark

Paper Straws by Aardvark Straws, photo used by permission

  • Paper straws are making a comeback. Aardvark makes sturdy paper straws (packaged in paper wrappers) in a variety of sizes – You can slurp your favorite drinks up then compost the straws and their wrappers.
  • Grow your own straws!Perennial fennel, when the stems are mature enough, are beautiful summertime straws with added flavor.

    The Harvest: Fennel Stalks and Greens photo: Rebecca Rockefeller

REPURPOSE AND REUSE

Plastic straws don’t need to go into the trash, headed for a landfill or incinerator. Try one of these reuses – But please, only attempt these activities with straws that you’ve found or that have come your way unbidden; no new plastic straws, please! I promise, there are plenty in existence to go around, and they’re easy to find underfoot almost everywhere. If you have a reuse for plastic straws that isn’t featured here, please let us know – We’ll add it to the list to create the best New Life for Old Plastic Straws list around.

Straw Shapes Activity by Sycamore Stirrings, photo used by permission

  • 1. Sycamore Stirrings has a tutorial for a reusable educational shape building set using straws and pipe cleaners.
  • 2. Mix up a batch of home-made polymer, aka “gack”, “glurch” “oobleck”, and “flubber” – Let the polymer settle into a flat pancake on your play surface, slip one end of a straw through the goo, hold the edges down and puff to create shifting bubbles.

Straw Air Rockets by TinkerLab, photo used by permission

  • 3. TinkerLab will teach you how to build breath-powered rockets from straws, paper, and a bit of tape (we recommend reusing produce stickers as colorful tape). These simple rockets have surprising speed and range that delight people of all ages.
  • 4. Trim your straws into pieces to make lovely beads. Use your beads for necklaces (a big hit with young kids working on fine motor skills), or for garlands to adorn the walls and windows during your next party, a special tree outside for a summer party, or your Christmas tree come December. Between uses, wrap your garland around a hanger and stash it in a closet to keep it fresh and colorful for years to come.

Paint with a straw – This works perfectly with watercolors on dry and wet paper; try other paints, too and report back here to share your creations.

  • 5. Keep a handful of straws in your arts and crafts stash. They’re great tools for blowing watercolor paints across wet and dry paper, for adding texture to playdough or clay, for printing tiny circles with tempera paint or ink pads, and much more.

Reused Straw + Berries = Perfectly Cored Strawberries photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

  • 6. Save a strong straw in a kitchen drawer for strawberry season – Pop the hulls out of fresh berries by inserting the straw through the center of each berry’s bottom and pushing up – The green top and inner hull will pop neatly off.

Rescue lots of plastic straws from the ground or beach and you’ll have enough to make your own large pendant light with help from The 3 R’s blog.

  • 7. Collect up all the lost straws hiding on the ground in your neighborhood, give them a good wash, and make yourself a beautiful light. If you’re rich in old straws, try the large pendant with directions from Allison of The 3 R’s blog.

Straws, an embroidery hoop, tracing paper, a light bulb, and a needle and thread = this amazing DIY light by Allison of The 3 R’s blog.

  • 8. Don’t have quite that many straws but you still want a light fixture to shine your reuse skills out? Check out the white straw hanging light at The 3 R’s blog. Give it a go in all white straws, or make up a colorful version.

DIY First Aid Straws – Fill your clean old straws with your favorite ointments and salves

  • 9. I followed the directions at Dancing in a Field of Tansy and turned a clean old straw into totally tubular travel-sized packets of  my favorite first aid ointments.
  • 10. Stick a collection of straws of various diameters in your tool box – They’re great for protecting cords and strings that run through wood and other materials – We’ve got one protecting the rope that opens our gate’s latch; the straw keeps it sliding freely through its wooden hole.

reuse plastic straws to keep your necklaces untangled during travel

  • 11. Slide your necklace through a clean old straw (cut to length as necessary) to keep it from tangling during travel. In between trips, store your empty straws in your travel toiletry kit or luggage to keep them handy for years of adventure. I’ve seen this tip in so many different places online, I’m not sure who should get the invention credit. Thank you to whoever came up with this one (let me know if it was you).
  • 12. Set an old straw soaring as a hoop glider with these directions from Science Bob.
  • 13. Plastic straws are generally made from polypropylene, plastic #5. Some municipalities accept plastic straws in their recycling program, but it can be difficult to sort out the rules. See this article from the Los Angeles Times for a wrap-up of what local recycling options for plastic straws looked like at 6:02 am on July 11th, 2011, for example. Track down a clear answer for your municipality and post it in the comments below to let your neighbors know what the rule is for your zip code. Reuse trumps recycling, but recycling is generally better than sending things to a landfill or incinerator.
  • 14. Better than any recycling bin, if you don’t want to reuse or upcycle plastic straws yourself, collect up as many as you can find and offer them to a local school or art teacher, or post them to your local Freecycle group. Many people are happy to accept donations of clean straws (you can send along the list above and offer that with the straws as inspiration).

Looking for more ideas for ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle your straws? Visit our Trash Backwards app where we’ve curated the best straw ideas on the web.

Reduce, Reuse Straws at App.TrashBackwards.com

If you have an innovative alternative to plastic straws, or a great way to upcycle the ones that are already floating around in our oceans and hiding in our ditches, please do share here or on our crowd-sourcing page!

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Categories: Best of Trash Backwards, DIY, Plastic-Free Living, Reduce Your Use, Repurpose and Reuse, Trash Pile - All Our Stuff, Upcycle

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25 Comments on “Straws”

  1. mary
    April 17, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    We used to cut up straws into about 1″ pieces, make a slit down one side and slip them onto the spokes of our bikes. They slid around on the spokes when you ride. Makes for very fun noises while pedaling around.

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 17, 2012 at 8:06 am #

      I remember that – Thanks for sparking that childhood flashback! Do you know if they stay on the spokes securely? I’m always wary now of uses that might allow the straws to escape into the wilds.

      • mary
        April 18, 2012 at 9:12 am #

        I don’t remember, but I think so… Maybe you could secure them with something, like thread.

      • Rebecca Rockefeller
        April 18, 2012 at 10:50 am #

        Yes, I remember them staying on well, too – We’ll test it out with modern straws rescued from the beach and report back.

  2. April 17, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    whoa, that pendant light is very impressive! Great ideas, thanks for sharing.

    • lieslclark
      April 17, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

      Thanks for visiting our page, Katy!

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 18, 2012 at 8:08 am #

      Katy, thanks for sharing your shape building set with everyone!

  3. April 18, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    Oh, straws…the memories you bring back. Blowing bubbles in my milk, amusing myself endlessly as I sucked down the bubbles as they overflowed…good times.

    I still use straws now and again for non-drinking purposes. One of the best uses I’ve found is to use different colored straws to identify different cords and cables. Cut the straw up the side and slip it over a cable to create a uniquely-colored identifier. No more wondering which power plug which leads to which appliance. My monitor = Blue. Wii = Green. TV = Red.

    Also, a certain pasta-loving sister of mine is known to use long pieces of uncooked, hollow, rolled pasta as a straw. She might be onto something.

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 18, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

      Very clever, all the way ’round.Thank you, Alex!

  4. Naomi Spinak
    April 18, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Itty-Bitty Toys: How to Knit Animals, Dolls, and Other Playthings for Kids by Susan Anderson has a pattern for a knitted sheep that uses (recycled) bits of straw in the legs to make the sheep stand up! I haven’t finished mine yet, but I’ll post when I do!

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      April 18, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

      Thanks, Naomi! Looking forward to seeing the itty-bitty straw-legged sheep!

  5. April 20, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    I’ve thought up (and come across) so many more brilliant re-uses for the simple straw:

    1) Thread necklaces, bracelets or headphones through the straw to keep them from tangling. (Close the necklace clasp once through the straw to prevent it from falling out). Great for traveling.

    2) Cut about 2 inches of straw and use it as the base for a small, emergency duct tape roll. Begin rolling the tape around the straw and continue to wrap it until you’ve got enough duct tape to solve a small crisis. Much, much easier than carrying around a whole roll with you at all times.

    3) Cut off a piece of thick straw and seal one end with heat (using a lighter). Stuff cotton into the straw and seal the other end with heat. Voila! – a water-proof emergency fire starting kit. Simply break the seal and unpack your kindling to get a fire going when the situation arises. Hopefully it never will.

  6. Rebecca Rockefeller
    April 20, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Thank you, Alex! Great suggestions! We’ve got a photo in this post of the necklace tangle solution, now we’ll get to work on photos of these others.

    • April 20, 2012 at 10:53 am #

      Haah, silly me. Good catch, you.

      • Rebecca Rockefeller
        April 20, 2012 at 11:13 am #

        Thank YOU for the great research and suggestions!

  7. April 20, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Oh, one more:

    Re-thread a drawstring (from you hoodie or sweatpants or whatever) by threading the string through the straw, stapling one end and maneuvering the straw (which is much easier to push through than the string alone) through the drawstring track.

  8. Rebecca Rockefeller
    May 2, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    Thanks for all of your suggestions! Our glass straw winners are Alex and Naomi – Mary, I know you already have some Glass Dharma straws, but if you’d like another, let us know and we’ll send one to you, too!

  9. Mary Ann
    July 18, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    So going to do the first aid kit one ~~~~ will be PERFECT for my Scouts backpack kit.

    • July 18, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

      Great – Please let us know how it works out for you! I made a pile for my daughters’ Girl Scout first aid kits, and loved being able to customize the contents and sizes.

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