A drinking straw or drinking tube is a small pipe that allows its user to more conveniently consume a beverage. A thin tube of paper, plastic (such as polypropylene and polystyrene), or other material is used by placing one end in the mouth and the other in the beverage. A combination of muscular action of the tongue and cheeks reduces air pressure in the mouth and above the liquid in the straw, whereupon atmospheric pressure forces the beverage through the straw. Drinking straws can be straight or have an angle-adjustable bellows segment.
The first known straws were made by the Sumerians, and were used for drinking beer, probably to avoid the solid byproducts of fermentation that sink to the bottom. The oldest drinking straw in existence, found in a Sumerian tomb dated 3,000 BCE, was a gold tube inlaid with the precious blue stone lapis lazuli. Argentines and their neighbors have, for several hundred years, used (for drinking mate tea) a similar metallic device called a bombilla, that acts as both a straw and a sieve. The use of plastic straws became popular following World War 2 due to the inexpensiveness of the materials, as well as the cheapness of the drinks and/or meals that were provided with the plastic straws.
The first mass-produced twisted straw was Sip-N-See invented by Milton Dinhofer who later came up with the idea and designs for the chimp in the iconic game, Barrel of Monkeys. Dinhofer originally patented his straw in the shape of a scissor with two loops on top, but Macy's would not carry the straw unless it had a character on it. They suggested Dinhofer make three straws (eventually patented in 1950): a cowboy, a clown and an animal for which he made an elephant. Each of his characters were attached to a looping soft polyethylene straw, and users were to sip from another detachable, small, straight, straw of acetate. Rexor Corp. copyrighted the straw the same year, but Macy's decided not to carry them. Dinhofer was told the selling price was too low. Dinhofer then turned to Woolworth's and convinced the chain to let him deliver some to several of their stores near his home. After one weekend of sales, Woolworth's placed an order for all of its stores and Sip-N-See went national. The straws were sold in individual boxes, and more characters were eventually added. Other buyers began to carry it, too, and it was marketed as an "action drinking toy." Sip-N-See went on to sell approximately 6 million units, and, a decade later, the s-shape of the arms on the cowboy straw would inspire Dinhofer's monkey design for Barrel of Monkeys.
Wax paper straw
Marvin C. Stone patented the modern drinking straw, made of paper, in 1888, to address the shortcomings of the rye grass straw. He came upon the idea while drinking a mint julep on a hot day in Washington, D.C.; the taste of the rye was mixing with the drink and giving it a grassy taste, which he found unsatisfactory. He wound paper around a pencil to make a thin tube, slid out the pencil from one end, and applied glue between the strips. He later refined it by building a machine that would coat the outside of the paper with wax to hold it together, so the glue wouldn't dissolve in bourbon.
Early paper straws had a narrow bore similar to that of the grass stems then in common use. It was common to use two of them, to reduce the effort needed to take each sip. (The cocktail straw, which is sometimes used in pairs, may be derived from such early straws.) Modern plastic straws are made with a larger bore, and only one is needed for ease of drinking.
- A basic drinking straw is straight for its full length.
- A bendable straw or "bendy straw" (known in the industry as an "articulated straw") has a concertina-type hinge near the top for convenience. This variation was invented by Joseph Friedman in 1937.
- A stainless steel straw straw is made from stainless steel and meant to be washed and reused several times as a means to waste reduction.
- Candy straws, such as licorice straws (or lico-straws), are made from some type of chewy candy.
- cereal straws are made by Kellogg's.
- "color-changer" straws change color when cold (or hot) liquid passes through them. At some restaurants, frozen beverages like slush or frappes are served with color changing straws. Many of these are larger in diameter than typical straws to aid in drinking the thicker beverages.
- A "crazy (or "krazy") straw" is hard, transparent or translucent plastic and has a number of twists and turns at the top. When liquid is sucked through the straw, it quickly flows through the winding path, creating a mildly amusing spectacle, popular with children. The crazy straw may have some therapeutic benefit for people with autism. The crazy straw was invented by Arthur Philip Gildersleeve and patented in 1936.
- Extendo-straws come in small plastic wrappings like miniature straws, but can extend to reach the bottom of the carton.
- Flavor straws are a form of drinking straw with a flavoring included, designed to make drinking milk more pleasant for children. They were first marketed in the United States in 1956 as Flav-R-Straws. In recent years, newer variations of the original idea have been resurrected in forms such as Sipahhs, and Magic Milk Straws that contain hundreds of flavored pellets encased within a stiff plastic straw.
- A miniature straw is often attached to a drink box.
- "Sanitary" straws are individually wrapped to avoid contamination. Straws were originally marketed as a means for people to reduce the risk of contracting an illness from improperly washed containers, glasses, or cups.
- A spoon straw features a cut-away shape at one end that functions as a miniature spoon. It is intended for slush drinks and milkshakes. Their original purpose was to avoid ice clogging up the submerged end of the straw.[circular reference]
- A wide straw is used for sipping bubble tea. The larger diameter is necessary to accommodate the drink's characteristic tapioca pearls, and can also be used for stirring. The tip of these straws are sometimes cut at an angle creating a point. This allows the straw to puncture the plastic cover of the cup.
McDonald's claims that wide straws improve the taste of Coca-Cola.
- Glass straws are made to be reusable and washable. They are marketed as bettering the drink's taste and as being BPA free.
- An Edible and Compostable straw made by SORBOS. They are aromatized and flavoured.
- Bamboo straws
- Polystyrene straws
- Polypropylene is becoming favored over polystyrene for manufacturing plastic drinking straws as polystyrene is brittle and tends to crack easily. Polystyrene is also denser than water, causing straws to sink when placed into beverages. Polypropylene straws, by contrast, are much more durable and do not sink.
- Silicone is a newer material used in drinking straws. Silicone straws are marketed for their freezability, invulnerability to cracking or peeling, and insulation for hot and cold drinks.
- Metal straws, popular among campers, are made from stainless steel, aluminum, and even titanium - carry-cases with straw cleaning-brushes are available
- Paper has been used and is used more frequently, as unrecycled plastic waste from straws has been seen to be a problem.
- Polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable plastic, require 68% fewer fossil fuel resources to produce than plastic and are compostable but require very specific conditions to break down fully
Plastic drinking straw production contributes a small amount to petroleum consumption, and the used straws become a small part of global plastic pollution when discarded, most after a single use. One anti-straw advocacy group has estimated that about 500 million straws are used daily in the United States alone – an average 1.6 straws per capita per day. This statistic has been criticized as inaccurate, because it is a guess made by Milo Cress, who was 9 years old at the time, after some phone conversations with straw manufacturers. This figure has been widely cited by major news organizations. In 2017 the market research firm Fredonia Group estimated the number to be 390 million.
The 10 largest emitters of oceanic plastic pollution (which does include plastic straws) are, from the most to the least, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Bangladesh,
Plastic straws account only for a tiny portion (0.022%) of unrecycled plastic waste in the oceans. Despite that, numerous campaigns in the 2010s have led to companies considering a switch to paper straws and countries imposing bans on plastic straws. However, 90% of all ocean plastic comes from just 10 rivers in Asia and Africa.
Microplastics pollution are a concern if plastic waste is improperly dumped. If plastic straws are improperly disposed of, they can be transported via water into soil ecosystems, and others, where they break down into smaller, more hazardous pieces than the original plastic straw.
Straws are typically made from polypropylene, mixed with colorants and plasticizers, and do not biodegrade in the environment, according to advocacy group For A Strawless Ocean. Since the material is strong it can however be reused or recycled into other products. Waste straws in Uganda are collected from beer and soft drink depots, cleaned, and woven into mats for picnics and prayers or joined to form bags.
- Bamboo straws
- Glass straws
- Metal straws
- Straw straws
- Paper straws
- Pasta straws
- Silicone straws
- BPA-free straws
Environmental groups have encouraged consumers to object to "forced" inclusion of plastic straws with food service. Campaigns advocate providing a non-plastic straw to consumers who request one, especially as some people have disabilities that prevent sipping from the rim. Pro-environment critics say that plastic straw bans are insufficient to address the issue of plastic waste, as mostly symbolic. People with disabilities worry that banning plastic straws will make less accessible and many argue that alternatives to plastic straws (metal, paper, glass etc.) aren't good enough alternatives to plastics as they can be choking hazards, have allergy risks and be inflexible.
The movement follows the discovery of plastic particles in oceanic garbage patches and larger plastic waste-reduction efforts that focused on banning plastic bags in some jurisdictions. It has been speeded by viral videos, including one featuring a sea turtle bleeding as a plastic straw is removed from its nostril.
Plastic straw bans and proposals
After the British proposition, fellow Commonwealth nation Canada was considering banning the straws too. An unofficial online survey showed that over 70% of voters agreed with a plastic straw ban.
Starting in 2019, a ban of plastic straws will go into effect in the City of Vancouver, due to a vote in May 2018 that included banning other single-use items. In March 2019, Starbucks Canada announced that they will be debuting strawless lids for cold drinks across Toronto as a part of their global environmental aspirations.
On April 19, 2018, ahead of Earth Day, a proposal to phase out single-use plastics was announced during the meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. This will include plastic drinking straws, which cannot be recycled and contribute to ocean deterioration, damaging ecosystems and wildlife. It is estimated that as of 2018, about 23 million straws are used and discarded daily in the UK.
On November 7, 2017, the city of Santa Cruz, California implemented a ban on all non-recyclable to-go containers, straws, and lids but allowed for 6 months for all businesses to come into compliance before enforcement would occur. On January 1, 2018, the city of Alameda, California citing the Santa Cruz effort, implemented an immediate ban on all straws, except if requested by a customer, and gave business until July 1, 2018 when it would be required that all straws to be of compostable paper and that all other to-go containers be recyclable.
In the first half of 2018, three towns in Massachusetts banned petrochemical plastic straws directly in the case of Provincetown, and as part of broader sustainable food packaging laws in Andover and Brookline. The city of Seattle implemented a ban on non-compostable disposable straws on July 1, 2018.
A drinking straw ban has been proposed in New York City since May 2018. Local regulations have also been passed in Malibu, California; Davis, California; San Luis Obispo, California; Miami Beach, Florida; and Fort Myers, Florida.
A statewide California law restricting the providing of single-use plastic straws went into effect on January 1, 2019. The text of the law is on the California legislature's website, here. Under the law, restaurants are only allowed to provide single-use plastic straws upon request. The law applies to sit-down restaurants but exempts fast-food restaurants, delis, coffee shops, and restaurants that do takeout only. The law does not apply to to-go cups and takeaway drinks. A restaurant will receive warnings for its first two violations, then a $25 per day fine for each subsequent violation, up to a maximum of $300 in a year. In a statement released upon his signing the legislation into law, then-Governor Jerry Brown said "It is a very small step to make a customer who wants a plastic straw ask for it. And it might make them pause and think again about an alternative. But one thing is clear, we must find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic products."
After consideration of a ban in the UK, in 2018, after a two month trial of paper straws at a number of outlets in the UK, McDonald's announced they would be switching to paper straws for all locations in the United Kingdom and Ireland. and testing the switch in U.S. locations in June 2018.
A month after the Vancouver ban passed (but before it took effect) Canada's second-largest fast food chain, A&W announced they would have plastic straws fully phased out by January 2019 in all of their locations.
Various independent restaurants have also stopped using plastic straws.
Hyatt Hotels announced straws would be provided by request only, starting September 1, 2018. Royal Caribbean plans to offer only paper straws on request by 2019, and IKEA said it would eliminate all single-use plastic items by 2020. Other conversions include Waitrose, London City Airport, and Burger King UK stores starting September 2018. A few other cruise lines, air lines, beverage companies, and hotels, have also made partial or complete reductions, but most companies in those industries have not, as of May 2018.
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