Just a few years ago, you automatically received a straw with any cold takeout drink and probably didn't think twice about it.
Governments and companies are taking this action to reduce the staggering volume of waste generated by something most people don't need: An estimated 7.5 percent of plastic in the environment comes from straws and stirrers, according to an analysis by a group of pollution research nonprofits called Better Alternatives Now.
Other than its negative impact on the environment, there are lesser-known, health-related reasons to ditch the little plastic tube. Here are some of the concerns.
Gas and bloating: Sipping from a straw introduces air into the digestive tract. This can cause uncomfortable digestive symptoms, such as gas and bloating. When I'm counseling clients who are experiencing these symptoms, I always ask them about lifestyle habits, such as whether they drink from a straw often. Some of my clients have experienced significant improvements by ditching straws, as well as cutting back on two other habits that introduce air into the digestive tract: Drinking carbonated beverages and chewing gum.
Cavities: Drinking sugary or acidic beverages through a straw can increase the likelihood of cavities. Straws send a concentrated stream of liquid toward a small area of the teeth, which can erode enamel and cause tooth decay. On the other hand, straws can also be used to lower the risk of cavities if they're positioned behind the teeth, at the back of the throat, although this approach isn't realistic or comfortable for most people.
Chemicals: Most single-use plastic straws are made from polypropylene, a type of plastic commonly made from petroleum. Polypropylene is thought to be food-safe in amounts approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But there is evidence that chemicals from polypropylene can leach into liquids and may release compounds that could affect estrogen levels, especially when exposed to heat, acidic beverages or UV light.
Wrinkles: On a lighter note, regular use of straws can also lead to the same wrinkles that smokers get around their mouths. These "pucker lines" could persuade the masses to stop using straws.
Excess sugar and alcohol consumption: It's been argued that sipping liquids such as soft drinks through a straw could contribute to excess sugar intake. The thought is that straws cause you to gulp down a greater volume of liquid more quickly than drinking from a glass or cup. Plus, people aren't very accurate about estimating how much liquid they're taking in, especially if they're distracted by a movie or smartphone screen.The idea that drinking alcohol through a straw leads to faster intoxication is another theory that's been repeated often. Yet much like the excess-sugar theory, it's popular but unproven.
While the anti-straw movement is an impressive step toward reducing waste in our oceans, there is much more work to be done. Whether we like it or not, plastic is a part of us now. Chemicals from plastic manufacturing show up in our urine, blood and cells. So let's take the conversation beyond straws and move to reduce the use of all single-use plastics in our daily lives to protect our oceans, and ourselves.