We tested 5 alternatives to plastic straws and found a clear winner – with one important caveat
- We tested five alternatives to plastic straws: stainless steel, etched copper, glass, bamboo, and Khanyiso reed.
- All are re-usable, two are both bio-degradable and renewable – and none have the long-term environmental impact of plastic.
- We had a strong preference for the most expensive of the five, though it will take two extra accessories to make it practical.
We tried five re-usable alternatives to plastic straws now available in South Africa for between R15 and R95 each, plus shipping – compared to the around R1 each for "premium" disposable plastic straws.
Testing with hot beverages quickly showed that metal straws, both copper and to a lesser extent stainless steel, have serious problems because they so efficiently conduct heat. Our bamboo straw left a bad taste, and an alternative reed straw was nearly as bad.
Glass, on the other hand, made for an extremely pleasant straw – just not one that can be carried around with any safety.
This is how our straws stacked up.
Copper: not great.
EbonyMoon etched copper drinking straw: R49.
Our supplier Faithful to Nature lauds copper for having "a definitively lux appeal" in a straw. Our straw, however, arrived already marked and scuffed, and very quickly picked up more scratches in ordinary use. Its aesthetic appeal will not last.
Functionally it serves its purpose well enough – unless you put it in something hot or cold, in which case it quickly becomes unpleasant to hold or have between your lips.
Stainless steel: meh.
Smart Sip slim, bent stainless steel straw: R66.
The stainless steal straw mercifully conducted heat slightly less well than copper, and so became only mildly unpleasant to use with hot or cold beverages.
If there were nothing better around, stainless steel could do, though it had no real virtue.
Khanyiso reed: everything hot tastes woody quickly, and anything cold tastes woody eventually.
Khanyiso straw: R15.
The Khanyiso reed, we are told, "grows naturally and abundantly in Mozambique". It makes for a bad straw.
Used to sip a hot beverage, it immediately flavoured everything with an unpleasant aftertaste. It is not much better at cold liquid, the nasty taste just takes slightly longer to manifest.
EcoPlanet bamboo straw: R22.
Bamboo is made into serviceable, and sometimes great, cooking utensils. In its raw form, however, this straw provided a horrific drinking experience. It immediately tainted everything with the taste of green wood. It rendered a cup of hot coffee undrinkable after being left to stand in it for less than a minute.
Worst of all, the aftertaste lingered.
Glass: a clear winner, if only...
Restraw Original: R95.
The South African made Restraw was a stand-out winner. It suffers none of the heat conductivity or taste issues of other straws. The thick, rounded edges are pleasant in the mouth. It is entirely thick and sturdy enough to clamp satisfyingly between the teeth.
It was also the only clear straw in our test, enabling the kind of fun only possible with a transparent straw.
Being see-through made it the only straw we could trust to actually be clean, and clear of the kind of fluff and grime that accumulates in bags.
This glass straw had a slightly annoying habit of rolling around when put down on what was even the most apparently level of surfaces. The several times it dropped to our industrially-carpeted floors did it no harm though.
...it was safer to carry around.
The Restraw, though thick and sturdy, did not survive our simulation of rough handling in a handbag (which consisted of gently lobbing it against a wall.) Our newsroom floor consensus is that we would be happy to be offered it as a utensil at a restaurant, but would be uncomfortable carrying around our own.
So this glass straw is a clear winner with one important caveat: it requires a sturdy carry case. Most likely something made of rigid plastic, rather than the hemp sleeve its makers provide.
And when we replace our now broken glass straw, we will make sure it comes with a cleaning brush, which ours did not. Though it is dishwasher safe, the inner diameter is too small to be sure that anything other than a hand scrub will get it clean.
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