Bye-bye, metal straws
Years ago, a beleaguered sea turtle changed the world.
In a 2015 video that now has 110+ million views, marine biologists freed a ridley sea turtle off the coast of Costa Rica from a plastic straw lodged in its nostril.
The graphic clip sparked public outcry and greater awareness of the environmental impact of single-use plastic items like straws, cutlery, and bottles. Celebrities launched the #StopSucking campaign to curb plastic straw use and, soon after, metal straws started flying off the shelves.
But years later, metal straws are slurping up less traction on the market. Let’s take a look.
What’s the deal
Metal straws have a few things going for them. They’re durable, can be reused many times, are free of harmful chemicals, and can be recycled.
But, as with many fads, folks are realizing metal straws’ flaws as they’ve become more common.
They’re not great for hot drinks, they’re a huge storage pain for restaurants, and you occasionally get a funky metallic taste. On top of that, they’re magnets for bacteria growth and are notoriously difficult to clean.
Are they actually eco-friendly?
While they’re highly reusable, metal straws leave a significant carbon footprint and carry other environmental baggage.
One study found the energy used to produce a single stainless steel straw is equivalent to the energy used to produce 102 plastic straws. And, based on their carbon emissions, producing one stainless steel straw is equivalent to producing nearly 150 plastic straws.
That means you’d need to reuse a metal straw about 150 times to equalize the environmental impact of creating it. On top of that, the extraction process for metals uses significant fossil fuels and can contribute to deforestation.
In general, eco-friendly straws have been growing in popularity as more consumers move away from single-use plastic.
The reusable straws market — of which metal, glass, and bamboo are a part — however is growing more slowly when compared to other eco straws. For example, the metal straw maker Steelys Drinkware said its steel straw sales are about 25% of what they were a few years ago.
The reusable straws market hit 1.9 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $2.9 billion by 2028. Paper straws, on the other hand, are expected to reach $4.9 billion in 2023 and are projected to hit $11.5 billion by 2028.
A growing movement
A host of businesses, states, and organizations have banned or halted their use of some single-use plastics, including straws.Bon Appétit — a restaurant company that operates more than 1,000 cafes — nixed their use of plastic straws, and so too has Starbucks, American Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, and Disney. Washington D.C., Oregon, and California have also banned plastic straws in their restaurants and service businesses.
And recently the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. National Parks System announced they will phase out its use of single-use plastics. While there’s no federal U.S. law banning single-use plastics, the Department of the Interior’s move will help solidify a national movement away from plastic straws.