Alternative straws: the long and the short of it

After footage went viral of a baby turtle struggling to breathe because a plastic straw was trapped in its nose, it didn’t take people long to denounce plastic straws. But are reusable or collapsible straws the answer?

“I think that people are trying to be aware of their effects on the environment and the collapsible straw is a very convenient way to do it,” says Aaliyah Kathrada, founder of Sip Conscious, which “provides an eco-friendly alternative to the sin that is plastic straws”, according to its website.

Kathrada launched what she calls a social enterprise in early 2018 “to assist with the conundrum of plastic straws”.

Sip Conscious initially sold stainless steel straws — in a range of colours and thicknesses — and, late last year, also began stocking collapsible steel straws.

Retailing at R160 each and coming with its own cleaning brush in a keyringed box, Kathrada says sales of collapsible straws have been strong so far. “People prefer collapsible straws, because they’re easy to just pop into your bag. It doesn’t take up space, and you can clean it easily.”

Kathrada says that she decided to look into bringing collapsible straws to the market after seeing the kinds of straw alternatives people had.

“They are more expensive than the metal ones, which start at R30 for a single straw; a two-straw set with bag selling for R125. The collapsible straws are newer, so we put a lot of work in to market these. But they’re so convenient, and it makes people realise that it doesn’t take too much from you to take your straws out and practise eco-friendliness,” says Kathrada who, for now, sources the straws internationally.

Cape Town-based health writer and metal-straw-user Sian Ferguson says that the focus on straws has had a negative impact on the anti-plastic movement: “Many people have decided to refuse the plastic straw, without looking at other ways to reduce plastic waste,” she says.

The Mail & Guardian reported earlier this month that South Africans produce two kilograms of plastic waste per person a day, second only to the United States, and 56% of the waste we produce is mismanaged and makes its way into the natural environment.

But is the reusable straw just eco-trendiness? What about helping to save the planet by not using straws at all?

Plastic straws and their role in environmental sustainability remain an issue of global concern. Writing for the Singapore Women’s Weekly, Lauren Ong says that, just like any other product made from natural or anthropogenic resources, “metal straws come at an environmental cost. There is no one item that is absolutely more sustainable than the other.

“Most items leave a carbon footprint and hamper our ecosystem in one way or another anyway. We can choose to drink straight from the cup instead of using any type of straw to consume our drinks.”

“2018 was the year of the metal straw because it was a year about small, superficial battles, not big, meaningful ones,” writes John DeVore in the Observer. “Virtue signals, not actual virtue.”

Ferguson says that although making efforts to use alternative solutions in order to preserve the environment — including complete abstinence — is applaudable, it is also important to stay mindful of people who rely on plastic straws in their everyday life.

“Many disabled people rely on straws to be able to drink properly,” she says. “By calling for straws to be banned, we ignore this fact.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Aaisha Dadi Patel
Aaisha Dadi Patel
Aaisha Dadi Patel was previously a member of the M&G’s online team. She holds an MA in Media Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand

Related stories

The president, the preacher and the great escape

Malawi’s new president was furious after Shepherd Bushiri’s dramatic disappearance from South Africa

Eskom’s emissions are not compatible with the South African constitution

The government must not cave to Eskom’s demand that it be exempt from air pollution rules. Furthermore, the power utility needs to stay true to the principles of its own just transition strategy

We developed a simple process to recycle urine. Here’s how it’s done

Most of the wastewater produced worldwide receives no treatment and the nutrients in wastewater go to waste. Here's how households can draw these nutrients from urine

The world’s warriors are under attack, but we must keep on fighting

The murder of Fikile Ntshangase in KwaZulu-Natal was not an isolated incident. Around the globe, from Nigeria to Brazil, environmental activists are similarly being silenced, and it is our duty to continue this struggle

Carer swims for Bob the Green Turtle

After being discovered with a belly full of plastic waste, Bob has become an ocean ambassador

Patel: South Africa on target to attract R1.2-trillion in investments

The trade minister says the country is on track to reach more than R1-trillion worth of investments over five years, despite Covid-19 disruptions

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Sudan’s government gambles over fuel-subsidy cuts — and people pay...

Economists question the manner in which the transitional government partially cut fuel subsidies

Traditional healers need new spaces

Proper facilities supported by well-researched cultural principles will go a long way to improving the image and perception of the practice of traditional medicine

Limpopo big-game farmer accused of constant harassment

A family’s struggle against alleged intimidation and failure to act by the authorities mirrors the daily challenges farm dwellers face

Did Botswana execute ‘poachers’ ?

The Botswana Defence Force’s anti-poaching unit has long been accused of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. Over 20 years the unit has killed 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…