Simple Steps. Big Impact.


No Straw; No Styrofoam Please!

The movement to eliminate single-use straws and polystyrene foam (what we commonly call “Styrofoam”) is on.

The more we learn about both of these items, the more it’s clear that it’s time to break some habits that are not only unhealthy for us, but that are creating havoc with the health of the planet.

What’s the problem?

 Plastic straws and Styrofoam cannot be recycled and will never decompose.  If they are incinerated, they release toxins into the air.

 They blow into stream ways, pollute our water sources, and harm wildlife.

 We use and throw away millions of single-use straws and Styrofoam cups and containers per day.

 Styrofoam is made from toxic and hazardous chemicals which can be absorbed by food that is stored or reheated in it and which has been shown to migrate into the human body.

When did we start using plastic straws?

Growing up, we only used straws for the fancy milkshakes we’d sip at the soda fountains and to get that quick brain-freeze with the frozen ice drinks at 7-Elevens.  When did we humans start to think that straws are so important that we need to have every restaurant put one in every glass of water and in every drink we order?

So here we are decades later, surrounded by straws and polystyrene containers everywhere we look!

What can Customers do to make a difference?

Worried about the cleanliness of the glass you’re are drinking from? Using a straw won’t make that glass any cleaner.

 Keep reusable take-out containers and beverage bottles or mugs in your car.

 If you want to or need to use a straw, buy reusable ones and carry them in your car or purse.

 There are some people with medical conditions that find that using a straw is really helpful; for example, those on the autism spectrum or people with neurological conditions.  We recommend the same; purchase your own straws or use your own beverage containers with lids and carry them with you.

 Bonus idea: When you order take-out or delivery, ask them to skip giving you plastic utensils and napkins too!

It’s only a matter of time before straws and Styrofoam become things of the past, so start to explore what works best for you now.  Here’s a list of cities that ban straws.

Sounds simple … might not be so easy.

For some people, the thought of having this kind of conversation with a server or fast-food worker can feel intimidating.  And if you’re with a group of others who don’t yet understand your reasoning, it can be embarrassing and downright uncomfortable.

And then there’s the guilt for those times you ordered that luscious milkshake but completely forgot that they would put a huge plastic straw in your glass.  Or that your favorite ice cream spot only serves their sundaes in Styrofoam containers.

So the no-guilt method is to start one step at a time and see what feels most comfortable for you to do.  When you’re ready, you’ll easily begin to make other nature-connected choices.

Here are some tips that could make it easier:

 If you’re dining out with friends, let the people you’re with know that you’ll be asking for no straw and no Styrofoam at the meal; they may decide to join you!

 Watch for the server to come to the table and before they put your water glass down (with a straw in it) ask if they can please give that glass to someone else and get you another one that doesn’t have a straw.

 If you order another beverage, especially from the bar, you’ll need to remind the server again about no straw. Your server may need to relay your request to the bartender whose habit automatically reaches for the straw.

 If you order via a drive-thru location, as you place your order, just mention that you have your own container.  Most places will ask you to take the lid off your bottle or mug before you hand it to them thru the window.

 Want to take leftovers home but you don’t have your own take-out box with you? Ask the server if they have non-Styrofoam containers.  Paper or even recyclable plastic (if it can be recycled in your area) are better options.  The same goes for asking for a sheet of aluminum foil to wrap around a left-over sandwich.

 If you bring your own reusable straw or beverage container or your own take-out container, keep it visible on the table so your server is reminded that you came prepared.

 If you want to explain to the server or restaurant manager why you’re requesting no straw and no Styrofoam, just speak from your heart. Explain what you know about the harm these items are causing and refer them to this article if they seem interested. Be sure to thank them for listening!

What can Restaurant Owners do to be part of the Solution?

Restaurant owners have a powerful voice in the movement to providing us with clean, healthy food.  Your customers will listen to your thoughtful, researched reasons for leading the way to eliminate single-use straws and all Styrofoam.

 Provide reusable and washable metal, glass, or silicone straws for the few customers who need them. Yes, there are single-use straws made from more environmentally-friendly materials like paper and hemp but they have their own set of environmental impacts and pollute through their manufacturing, packaging, shipping, and storage processes. Compostable straws are beneficial only if they’re actually composted.

 Post signs that state something like: “We love our Planet. We no longer serve straws.”

 Use real dishes and glasses rather than Styrofoam.

 Post signs inviting customers to bring in their own take-out containers and tote bags (or create your own with your logo and sell them!)

 Purchase compostable take-out containers made of sustainably-produced paper. If they’re more expensive than what you’ve been buying, consider adding an up-charge for them. Or offer coupons or discounts to customers who bring their own.

 Put take-out food containers in compostable bags or ones made from sustainably-sourced paper rather than using plastic bags.

A growing list of restaurants, hotel chains, and other food service groups have made a commitment to quit using Styrofoam and plastic straws or to switch to compostable ones. Here’s a site that  keeps a running list.

Surely there’s a controversy about this topic, right?

Of course!

Here are articles by two authors who think too much emphasis is placed by environmental groups on banning plastic straws … food for thought or red herrings?

Banning Straws Won’t Save The Oceans by David M. Perry, Pacific Standard

Trendy bans on plastic straws are mostly bunk by Adam Minter, Bloomberg Opinion

Both articles raise some very good points.

Reading them through the eyes of The Resilient Activist has been a heartfelt exercise that led us back to thinking about our EnviroTips tagline: “Simple Steps. Big Impact.”

We take a huge step in the right direction when we understand the big picture* surrounding our habit of relying on these single-use products.

*big picture: fossil fuel source materials, toxins in the manufacturing processes, energy consumption and carbon output of packaging, storage & shipping, their inability to biodegrade, and of course, their harm to waters, humans, and wildlife.

The greatest impact will come when each of us makes everyday decisions based on our awareness of our personal connection to the planet.

Eliminating single-use plastic and Styrofoam are important steps in living in connection with a healthy planet.

Want to know more?

Here are some great articles with more food for thought:

Comment on this EnviroTip article

Please comment below and let us know what works for you and what you tried that wasn’t so successful.

If you’re in food service and have some recommendations for us, we’d love to hear them.


Check out our other EnviroTips articles too!

The Resilient Activist

The Resilient Activist enjoys sharing inspiring and nature-aware content from around the globe.  Hope you've enjoyed this article!