Service of the Last Straw, Bar None

March 26th, 2018

Categories: Health, Plastic, Pollution

I love sipping from a straw: Always have. Straws are associated with happy drinks and times. On hot summer nights my mother made scrumptious ice cream sodas for dessert which we’d sip through straws. A whiskey sour with a straw makes a celebration of an ordinary Saturday night.

To read they may be an endangered species because they are considered a “‘gateway plastic’ in understanding the pollution problem,” makes me sad. They come in cheery colors. The paper ones, in mostly stripes, cost a fortune and disintegrate. Bars that use metal straws claim customers take them. One company makes biodegradable plastic straws. Wonder how much they cost.

The gateway plastic quote above, by actor Adrian Grenier, was in Cara Lombardo’s Wall Street Journal article, “The War on Straws Is Coming to a Bar Near You.” Given the years since I first heard plastic bags were to be banned in NYC and still they are not, I may not have to say “bye-bye” to straws anytime soon.

Grenier started a #stopsucking social media campaign and “The Scotch Whisky Association and the makers of Absolut vodka and Tanqueray gin have announced plans to ban plastic straws and stirrers from their events.” Bacardi also nixes swizzle sticks. Pernod has deleted them from images, according to Lombardo.

She also reports that they are banned in some cities and in some bars you have to ask to get one like during the NYC water shortage when wait staff would confirm that you wanted a glass before automatically bringing one.

One source estimated that we use 20 billion plastic straws annually. “Mia Freis Quinn, a spokeswoman for the [Plastics Industry] association, says the plastic straw’s detractors should focus on finding ways to recycle and recover them. Plastic straws, she says, play vital roles in everything from her children’s class projects to personal hygiene. ‘My dentist says if you’re not drinking water, you better be using a straw.’ The American Dental Association suggests using straws to prevent tooth erosion, recommending using a straw ‘palatally,’ placing the end behind the teeth.”

One straw proponent, fearing all the communicable diseases around, won’t drink from a glass in a restaurant if he’s not given a straw because he doesn’t want to touch a rim “other mouths have touched.” Another wondered how we’d drink milkshakes [a favorite food group] without them. To be able to drink a strawless frozen margarita a third “learned to tilt the glass to prevent blended ice from spilling on her face.”

Straws are nothing new. Lombardo wrote that the Sumerians used metal ones as early as 2,500 B.C. When I was a kid I was puzzled by the ones you’d get in bars in Europe that were actually made of straw. They were so thin and delicate you had to concentrate to extricate liquid from them.

Would you miss plastic straws if they were prohibited? Considering the huge amount of plastic used in packaging and bottles alone, do you think that barring straws is little more than a symbolic gesture in the face of the gigantic pollution issues we face? What do you like—or dislike—about them?

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8 Responses to “Service of the Last Straw, Bar None”

  1. Judith B Schuster Said:

    One bar in the Twin Cities announced similar plans last week to cancel plastic straws, and they will be providing paper ones. I believe this is in response to an article in the paper last week that said that there is an “island” of plastic that is the size of Delaware in the Pacific Ocean. I can’t recall how deep this island is, but I know it was significant. I’m sure that the Atlantic Ocean is experiencing a similar problem. I’m not a strong environmentalist, but this is a real tragedy that kills plants, fish and even animals that feed in or near the oceans. Earlier, I read that plastic can be found in the stomachs of fish and animals.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Everything you write is true, but straws? We divide our garbage and the amount of plastic we toss is enormous. Frozen food comes on plastic trays; tomatoes come in plastic boxes; water, juice, soda, eggs and on and on and on add to that pile in the Pacific Ocean. Straws are a drop in the bucket. Paper, as Cara Lombardo reported, disintegrates. What good is that? When the plastic industry comes up with a biodegradable product then we’re talking impact.

  3. ASK Said:

    I never use straws, but this issue, is not even a band-aid on the problem of too much plastic. In Germany, where I am presently, they charge 10 cents for a plastic bag if a shopper wants one for anything — groceries, clothing, whatever…Most people seem to find other means of carrying their purchases. Like so many expedient measures today, this straw ban appears to give politicians and/or bureaucrats the opportunity to say they did something when in reality they’ve done very little except chip away at small pleasures and/or freedoms.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree.

    I also get the feeling that the actor quoted in the article is looking for a way to inch back into the limelight. When you Google his name, he’s “best known” for a TV show, Entourage, that ended in 2015 and The Devil Wears Prada, 2006.

    With the exception of when I shop at Trader Joe’s, [I plan for this and bring tote bags], when paper isn’t available I accept plastic bags from stores to hold groceries–that’s my only choice by vegetable and fruit bins to hold apples, pears, potatoes etc. that need to be weighed by the cashier–I use each at least once again if not many more times.

  5. Protius Said:

    When I was little, it was the fashion of the time to teach children about pre-history, Neanderthal men, the Iron and Bronze Ages and all that. Then, the straws we used were made out of straw — I loved them and being able to break and flatten them out — and glasses and containers were actually made out of glass or paper.

    Less than a century later, we are now clearly full-force in the Plastic Age. Everything is made out of the stuff; we have abandoned using straw straws and glass jars, and instead are irretrievably mired in a sea of plastic. It is insatiably polluting our environment with its awful ability to resist being biodegraded.

    Years ago, a prominent, thoughtful Saudi government leader, for whom I once worked, told me in a candid, very much off-the-record conversation at dinner one night that we should never have used a precious commodity like oil for any but medical purposes. I have never liked plastic, and what he, a man who really knew about oil, had to say convinced me that I was absolutely right in my thinking.

    That said, I also think you are right when you write about a few plastic straws supposedly causing bigtime pollution. They are not, and the very idea that they ever could is absurd.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I keep thinking of more things we buy that come in plastic that once came in paper or glass: milk, warm sandwiches from the deli, condiments like ketchup and mustard.

    Not only that, check out stores in summertime that sell stunning plastic dishware…that look just like Italian or French-painted Vietri or Quimper. They are great for picnics and by the pool. They are not expensive and give plastic plates cachet and a new life. At one time they were considered cheap and ugly. I’m guilty of buying some myself.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    So now the straw has become offensive? Who did it insult? Someone must have found it to have racial implications, or seen it as a symbol of hate in some obscure tongue. Sounds ridiculous? Perhaps it is, but no more idiotic than waging war against a humble item which gives pleasure to many. It’s not even fattening!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    It struck me the same way. Someone who wants to lose weight and gives up flavored water would have about as much success in that battle as people concerned about pollution will by forgoing straws.

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