Two years ago, when you ordered a drink from a fast food restaurant, smoothie shop or coffee shop, you were given a straw automatically. These days, many popular fast food chains are only offering straws upon request. But why? The fact is, there are many reasons you shouldn’t be drinking from a plastic straw. This includes both health reasons and because of how plastic straws impact the environment. Because of the staggering volume of waste that’s generated every year by plastic straws, many companies and governments are now taking action.
Each year, more than 7% of plastic in the environment comes from both plastic stirrers and plastic straws. The World Economic Forum projected that by the year 2050, the amount of plastic found in the ocean would outweigh the fish. Additionally, there are many health risks associated with drinking out of plastic straws, which is why many people have invested in buying the best reusable straws, since these straws can be washed and sanitized.
This guide will go over the top 5 reasons you should steer clear of plastic straws, and why reusable straws are better for both your health and the environment.
Health-Related Issues that Stem from Plastic Straw Use
While it’s clear that using plastic straws is bad for the environment, considering a vast majority ends up in our oceans, there are lesser known reasons to abstain from straw use that are purely health related. Below, you’ll learn more about why plastic straw use is so bad for your health.
Bloating and Gas
Drinking from a plastic straw can introduce air into the digestive tract, which can lead to uncomfortable digestive symptoms including bloating and gas. When a patient complains of these systems, most physicians will question them about their lifestyle habits, such as how often they drink from a plastic straw. By just ditching plastic straws, patients often experience significant improvements. Aside from ditching plastic straws, they are also advised to cut back on other habits that can cause bloating and gas, such as smoking and chewing gum.
Drinking acidic or sugary beverages with a plastic straw can increase a person’s risk of cavities. A straw can send a concentrated stream of liquid towards specific areas in the mouth, which can cause tooth decay and can erode enamel over time. However, straws can also be used to minimize the risk of cavities if the drinker practices positioning straws at the back of the throat or behind the teeth, however, some people may find this approach uncomfortable.
Disposable Straws can Leach Harmful Chemicals
The majority of disposable straws are made out of a type of plastic called polypropylene, which is often made out of petroleum. Polypropylene is considered safe in small amounts and has been approved by the FDA. However, there’s evidence that the chemicals that come from this material can leach into foods and can release harmful compounds that can have a negative impact on estrogen levels. This is especially true when the material is exposed to acidic or hot beverages.
The NPR reported in 2011 the results of a study that examined over 400 plastic items that often came into contact with food, including grocery bags, plastic deli packages, baby bottles, and straws. The results of this study showed us that products that contained plastic, even products that claimed to be made out of BPA-free materials, released harmful chemicals into the body that act just like estrogen. Essentially, anything that’s made out of plastic can release harmful chemicals into the food and beverages you eat and drink. Products that are used daily, such as lotions, serums, and other types of skincare products that are packaged in plastic containers can also pose long-term health issues because of the harmful chemicals that leach into the products.
The biggest impact that plastic has on the body has to do with the cells. None of the effects are positive. Plastic contains a wide variety of chemical additives, like DEHP and carcinogens, which can have a negative impact on health. Because of these chemicals, using plastic or drinking from plastic straws can impair immune function over time and can increase a person’s chance for diabetes, obesity, early onset of puberty, and cancer.
While the thought of harmful chemicals from plastic leaching into food and beverages is scary enough, it may alarm many people to learn that these harmful substances can also leak into cosmetic products. Unfortunately, most people aren’t aware that BPA is a serious issue in the beauty industry.
BPA plastic is found in beauty product containers. Like with water, this chemical can leach into products that are then applied to the skin. Additionally, since skin is the largest organ, the body can actually absorb more through the skin compared to ingesting BPA that’s been leached into food and beverages. While it may be impossible to give up using plastic altogether, by ditching plastic straws and switching to reusable straws, or learning to live without straws entirely, a person can significantly minimize their exposure to these harmful chemicals.
Straw Use Can Lead to an Increase in Sugar Consumption and Faster Intoxication
It’s been debated that drinking with a straw can contribute to a significant increase in a person’s daily sugar intake. This is because straw use allows a person to drink a greater volume of liquid faster compared to drinking directly from a cup. Additionally, people are not very good at estimating how much liquid they’re taking in, especially if they’re drinking on the go or distracted by watching a movie.
There are also reports that drinking alcoholic beverages using a straw can result in faster intoxication. However, this has been unproven, as is the increase in excess sugar consumption.
Of course, if you’re drinking low calorie drinks, such as one of your favorite juicing recipes, or you’re strictly using a straw for water, then excess calorie and sugar consumption won’t even be an issue.
In terms of excess alcohol consumption, that’s an easy enough fix, simply avoid using a straw when you’re drinking a cocktail.
Some people make a habit out of reusing a disposable straw, others will hang onto a disposable straw for the day and refill their fast food cup with a fresh drink. While this may seem harmless, it’s actually a great way to ingest harmful bacteria. Bacteria can grow in as little as a few hours. In a moist small space, such as inside a straw, bacteria will begin to grow rapidly, especially if it’s hot outside. This can lead to digestive issues that can come on suddenly. If you’re guilty of reusing your disposable straw, even just for a day, now is the time to ditch this unhealthy habit. Instead, opt for reusable straws that are made out of antimicrobial materials.
The anti-straw movement is designed to help reduce waste in our oceans. Each day, five million straws are used in America. Since disposable straws often end up as litter, they easily make their way into the ocean, endangering wildlife. It’s estimated that more than a million seabirds and as many as one hundred thousand sea turtles and marine mammals die each year as a result of plastic pollution.
Microplastics are plastics that fragment and degrade over time. These plastics also pose a major health risk. This is because many organisms ingest the small particles from the plastic and since microplastics are so small, removing it from the ocean is basically impossible since it cannot be caught in nets.
Straw Use for People with Disabilities
For many people with strength and mobility issues who are unable to lift a cup high enough to take a drink, straw use is essential. Some people with poor motor coordination are not able to hold a drink safely, without spilling it. A bendable plastic straw helps people take a drink, independently, without help from family or caregivers. Because of this, the ban on straws may seem very harsh and it can certainly be inconvenient for some people with disabilities. Here is where having a stockpile of reusable straws on hand will also be beneficial. While not as convenient as using a disposable straw, you can also find reusable straws on the market that feature a bendable design, which makes them a great replacement for disabled individuals who normally rely on disposable bendy straws.
Why Plastic Straws Can’t Be Recycled
By now, most people recognize that recycling is very important. Recycling can prevent many types of plastic objects from spending centuries causing environmental issues. But unfortunately, it still always ends up in a landfill. Plastic straws, as well as other small items that are made out of plastic tend to fall through the machinery that’s used to sort recycling. Because of this, people are asked not to put straws in recycling bins.
So, what’s the solution?
The best way to prevent plastic straws from ending up in landfills all over the world is to avoid using them, whether you’re at a restaurant or at home. If you want to use a straw for your favorite banana smoothie recipe or iced coffee, then purchase a set of reusable straws.
Reusable straws are also a great solution for people who need to use plastic straws because of physical limitations.
Additionally, fast food chains are now offering paper straws, which can be a great alternative to plastic disposable straws and definitely a better choice for the environment.
There are many reasons you shouldn’t drink from a plastic straw. Plastic straws can be bad for your health due to harmful chemicals from the plastic leaching into your beverages, straw use can cause bloating and gas, and plastic straws are ruining the environment. Switching to a reusable straw is one of the safest alternatives and the best option if you want to do your part for the environment. Of course, you’ll still find fast food chains that are continuing to use plastic straws, so, the next time you’re going through the drive thru, simply refuse the plastic straw and make sure you keep a reusable straw on hand.