Metal Straws; Should we use them? (Written By Victoria Macpherson)

            The metal straw could potentially end up being a dangerous phenomenon. At one point the product was so big that pretty much everyone I knew had one or multiple. It was a way for people to physically show that they cared about the environment, almost as if it was a form of proof that one was going to make a difference. So many famous social media influencers posted pictures of themselves on a beach drinking from their metal straw. If you didn’t have or use one, it was pretty much assumed you didn’t care much about our environment and its future. I remember buying them pretty quickly and not even questioning it. I mean, a reusable metal straw has to be better for the environment than single use plastic ones, right?

            The metal straw phenomenon became a talking point for so many people, initially in a positive way. Recently though, metal straws have taken a bit of a hit due to people claiming that they actually aren’t good for the environment and that we should stop using and producing them. So what’s the truth? Should we continue to purchase metal straws or are we just hurting the environment more by doing so? Are we sure that they are even safe to use?

            Luckily, some experts have done research on how much energy is used to make them and what their carbon emissions are. According to a study that was conducted in 2018, the amount of energy that is used to make just one metal straw is the equivalent of the energy required to produce 90 plastic straws [3]. The carbon emissions are also quite high to produce one metal straw. It ends up being the same as producing 150 plastic straws [3]. I suppose as long as you use your metal straw at least 150 times then it should still be better for the environment. But how long are we supposed to keep them for?

            Metal straws are expected to last 5 years worth of uses as long as they are cared for properly. This would mean cleaning it with the little brush they normally provide in the package. If you don’t do this, a lot of bacteria can build and it can become a hazard. Germs and bacteria will be able to thrive due to moisture inside the straw, causing you to then ingest them [4]. So proper care and cleaning is very important and, if you haven’t been doing this, I would recommend you start.

Another consideration that I think is important is what happens to the straws after their 5 years of proper use when we have finally discarded them. The material used to make metal straws is 86% recyclable [3].

This means that the majority of the straw is being used to make future steel products. That definitely makes me feel better about throwing away mine in a few years. Especially knowing that metal straws also currently only have a 3% discard rate while plastic straws have a 100% discard rate [3]. So if 1 million metal straws were purchased, only 30,000 of those would be thrown out to date. Whereas every bit of plastic straws purchased or used would be thrown out.

            It does appear that metal straws are better for the environment, but how ethically are they being sourced and produced? The metal straws we use are made from nickel that is most commonly mined in Indonesia, Russia or the Philippines. An island located in the Philippines called Palawan is one of the country’s biggest mining sites and is a huge source of nickel ore [3]. Many people have been blaming the production of nickel for what has happened in Palawan.

The forests are being torn down for the purpose of mining, which has poorly affected their Indigenous communities. What many people don’t realize is that it has been reported that there is successful rehabilitation of these mined sites in Palawan. In 2017 the DENR Secretary at the time, Gina Lopez, suspended nearly all mining operations in the Philippines but allowed the one in Palawan to remain open [3].

            So they’re environmentally friendly and as ethically sourced as they possibly could be. But there is another question that needs to be asked. Can they be harmful in a different way? There is an event though that occurred in 2019 that scared many people away from buying them.

A women named Elena Struthers-Gardner was fatally injured by a metal straw. At 60 years old, Elena was impaled through the eye [5]. She had fallen and it caused the 10-inch straw to, sadly, take her life. If a metal straw can do this much damage, is it really safe to use?

            Truthfully, many things that are made from metal can be dangerous if misused. For example, forks are used everyday but they can very easily injure someone if they aren’t careful.When using a metal straw try to always remember these tips:

  • Never use a metal straw with a type of lid that holds them in place [5]

Using it with a lid like this can prevent the straw from being able to move if you were to fall on it. This could cause an injury similarly to Elena Struthers-Gardner.

  •  Do not use them with a hot liquid [6]Image

Due to the straws being metal, they very easily conduct heat and get hot pretty quickly. This means that they could potentially burn you if used in a hot enough liquid like tea or coffee.

  • Always make sure that you clean it well

You never know what kinds of bacteria can stay on your metal straw if you don’t clean it properly after every use. This mean making sure that you use that little pipe cleaner they usually supply in the package.

  • Keep them away from young children

Children are alway curious and picking stuff up. They always seem to want to put everything in their mouths. If a child were to grab a metal straw and do this, they could easily get hurt. Metal straws can cause cuts and scars due to the rough texture of them [6]. It is advised that children should only use metal straws while under parental guidance.

  • Do not use them with a narrow mouthed container

Just like the concept with the lids, any opening that restricts the movement of metal straws can be dangerous [6]. Examples to avoid are metal or plastic water bottles that are narrow at the mouth. In addition, you should avoid using a metal straw to drink from beer bottles. It is better to just drink right from the bottle for anything that’s narrow mouthed.

  • Try not to use them while you are walking or driving [6]

Make sure to especially not use a metal straw while driving. Any sudden stop could cause the straw to either get lodged in your throat or impale you.

            Metal straws do seem to be a good choice when striving to be as eco-friendly as possible. The only issue I have with them is that they’re not very practical. You have to clean them after every use so you can’t just leave them in your car. You’re also not supposed to use them while driving. No one is going to pull their car to the side of the road every time they want a sip of their iced coffee.

Not being safe with hot liquids can be a bit of an issue as well. Some people do enjoy drinking their coffees through a straw. The fact that it is not safe to do this may be a deal breaker. In my opinion, anything that has to be used 150 times to make it environmentally friendly needs to be practical.

No one is doing harm by using them but I just think that it doesn’t make sense to purchase one. To tell you the truth, I have 3 and I never use them. I even bought one specifically for bubble tea but I never remember to grab it from my drawer. It’s not really part of people mental checklist as they leave the house. Keys? Wallet? Phone? …. Metal straw? I just don’t see that happening. I certainly don’t think people are using them 150 times.

As humans we love a fad but after about a month of uses we move onto the next thing. Unfortunately, we don’t seem committed enough to using them to make it worth producing that much carbon and energy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of plastic straws (or even the paper ones), but I think we need to come up with a product that is more practical.

            To quickly answer, should we use metal straws? Yes, we absolutely should but they just aren’t practical enough. Unfortunately, just because we should does not mean that we will. If we can figure out a way to make them more of a practical, environmentally friendly option, I think we will see metal straws resurface as a positive alternative.








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