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Clothes that look like picnic blankets, crop tops with horny fruits all over them, bags made of porch furniture: These are among the items you’ve probably already seen on the Instagrams of professionally cool people this summer. But none of them can claim to be part of a bonafide international debate, except one: metal straws.
The great Straw Wars of 2018 have only just begun, but there have already been celebrity endorsements, proposed citywide bans, and, of course, a hashtag (#StopSucking). And on July 9, Starbucks announced that it would eliminate its trademark green plastic straws over the next year, replacing its cold beverage lid with what is essentially an adult sippy cup.
Though the ban on plastic straws is ultimately an effort to make the ocean a safer place for marine life, straws are far from the biggest problem when it comes to plastic pollution — bottles, wrappers, and bags all make up more beach trash than straws. The straw debate also often tends to leave out those with disabilities who rely on the bendiness of plastic straws in order to drink.
However, the straw itself isn’t really the target here: Psychologists explain that straw bans are simply acting as a “gateway drug” to lessening our usage of other plastics, and to generally get us thinking about the ecological effects of our consumption.
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Another thing missing from the straw debate: how freaking cool the metal ones look! These days they come in silver, gold, rose gold (duh), and even rainbow. Not only are they all over Instagram, dunked in fanciful beach drinks that come in coconuts or in artfully displayed chocolate milk bottles, but as of five weeks ago, they’re also at New York’s New Yorkiest spot for cool fancy ladies, The Wing.
(An important side note here is that paper straws, while also less bad for the environment than plastic ones, cost one zillion dollars, last for about five seconds, and make the sipper’s mouth feel like it is covered in damp shreds of paper, which it is. They should never, ever be used.)
I emailed with a real-live Cool Metal Straw Girl, Mercedes Bleth, a social media manager in Chicago, who got her first one on Amazon about a month ago. “I’m not sure if it’s the look of the straw that’s so cool as much as the badge of honor, ya know?” she wrote. “It’s the good type of selfish — the ‘I’m doing something good for the planet and I want to show it off!’ type of ‘cool’ incentive.”
She’d seen the viral turtle video — the horrifying one where the poor little guy has to get a straw removed from its nostril — and decided she wanted to cut down on plastic use. Along with metal straws, Bleth also started using exclusively reusable grocery bags, glass jars, and reusable bottles.
There’s a learning curve to adjust to. “When you’re at a coffee shop and the barista hands you a drink, it’s hard to get out of the habit of immediately reaching for the plastic straw nearby. SO many times I’ve grabbed a straw, unwrapped it and then said ‘oh shit’ because I forgot that I had my metal straw in my purse.”
And then there is the very 2018 peculiarity of whipping out one’s reusable straw in the presence of company. Darcie Wilder, a writer in New York, recently tweeted about this very phenomenon after buying her first batch on Amazon Prime last week. “I had mine in my bag last night at a diner, and the cold water was hurting my teeth (I can’t believe I’m someone who discusses their mild tooth sensitivity now), but I didn’t want to pull it out,” she explained to Racked. “I didn’t want to bring attention to myself! I think it’s just because it’s a new thing, at least for me, and I didn’t want it to occupy space in the conversation so I just drank the damn water.”
She also agreed that metal straws, in addition to, y’know, being good for the planet, look pretty dope. “I mean, plastic straws in a glass look dumb as hell, but metal straws in a glass look put together. It feels little luxurious, like I’m thoughtful enough to carve out this space for me to gently sip my drink.”
There is one downside: “I’m scared of biting down and chipping a tooth,” Wilder added. “I don’t think it’s possible to chip a tooth on a metal straw, but it just feels like a disaster that would happen.”
Honestly, same, but the good part about doing something that’s both positive for the environment and also happens to look good on Instagram is that it’s contagious. So now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be buying these very cool squishy silicone reusable straws that happen to come in both millennial pink and neo mint.