Sucked dry – drinking straws without plastic

Sangria, smoothie or shake: Whoever enjoys these does so with a straw. But the popular straw is now to be banned – because it is not made of straw, but nearly always of thin-walled plastics such as polyethylene or polypropylene.

Slurping is fun, a colourful straw decorates the long drink, and lipstick lasts longer – there are many reasons for using a drinking straw. But now everyone is talking about being plastic-free, and the EU has decided to largely abolish disposable plastic products. Two years from now there should therefore no longer be any plastic straws around. The material for drinking straws has often been subject to change. The oldest drinking straw found was made of gold, not of straw. It was found in a Sumerian tomb. According to current knowledge, the Sumerians probably sipped beer through it around 3000 B.C. to avoid grain husks floating on the surface. However, the Sumerians were not the only ones to use a tube for drinking in the olden days. In Argentina the Bombilla has long been in use too: This is a straw with a sieve insert at the lower end. It prevents mate leaves from landing in one’s mouth when drinking the traditional mate tea. It was not until many thousands of years later that the straw took on the shape we know today. Now the plastic era will soon be history, because the awareness of what plastic means has changed.

What remains – some drinks are simply preferably and better drunk with straws, whether sangria or cocktails. But there are also some products where a straw is part of the brand essence. This is the case with the Capri-Sun fruit juice drink, for example. The 0.2 litre bag with drinking straw is particularly popular with children. René Püchner, managing director of Capri Sun Vertriebs GmbH, regards the planned ban on plastic straws critically. When asked about this he explains: „We as a company are also continuously working to optimise our packaging, which the government recognises as being ecologically favourable. Our measures include, for example, the continuous monitoring and minimising of the materials used, as well as the reduction of energy consumption in production and logistics. In our opinion, however, the planned ban on plastic straws is by no means one of the truly priority measures that will improve protection of the environment in the long term. Püchner proposes: „In accordance with the accepted policy of a step-by-step model minimising packaging materials in the first place, reusing them as far as possible and otherwise recycling them, we believe it would be more sensible to first check the packaging quantities and weights that make up the main burden. These include questions such as: what is the ratio of product to packaging? Which packagings can be minimised further, which materials can be recycled well „? The Head of the Eppelheim-based company would like to see „objective information“ in which „the ban on drinking straws is seen in the right ratio to the total packaging waste generated“. „In our opinion, facts could convince consumers to take a (more) objective view of the situation and concentrate more on essential environmental protection measures. However, since the beverage manufacturer must expect that the ban on plastic straws will come, they are currently doing everything to find an alternative solution as quickly as possible „which is technically mature and also meets the requirements of consumers“. The company does not wish to publish any further information on this subject at present.

Dealers and manufacturers are also preparing for plastic-free age. Frankfurt’s only plastic-free delivery service, „grammgenau“, sells straws made of 100 percent 18/8 stainless steel as an alternative. These can be used again and again because they can be cleaned with a special brush (the Frankfurt firm supplies a brush with wool, without synthetic fibres) or in the dishwasher. A 22 x 0.8 centimetre stainless steel straw weighs 114 grams. The delivery service is counting above all on the catering sector.

Start-up produces drinking straws from edible fruit residues

With its „Eatapple“, the Saxon start-up Wisefood has developed an alternative to plastic straws: The drinking straw is made of edible fruit leftovers from the production of apple juice. The tubes have a shelf life of up to twelve months and dissolve in a beverage after about 60 minutes without affecting taste. „Our edible drinking straws are crunchy and a little hard before they are added to the drink. The drinking straws have a discreetly sweet and slightly sour taste. The longer the straw remains in the drink, the softer it becomes. We recommend that you leave the straw in the drink for 10 minutes and then consume it,“ explain the young entrepreneurs. The straw then tastes slightly like the drink. It remains stable for up to an hour. In 2018, Wisefood was acclaimed by the Land of Ideas Initiative and Deutsche Bank as one of 100 start-ups seeking to provide answers to pressing social questions with creative inventions.

Lübeck Penitentiary produces „real“ straws

The Musik- und Kongresshalle (MUK) Lübeck has also received an award – for its environmentally friendly commitment. Visitors can drink beverages through „real“ straws there. MUK receives these straws from Lübeck entrepreneur Marie-Luise Dobler, who had the idea for these plastic-free straws already more than 15 years ago – but did not see a market for them at the time. It was the EU regulations and the changed awareness that set the business in motion. The rye straws are produced in the Lübeck Penitentiary. There the rye stalks are sorted, shortened and packed by women inmates.

Supermarkets and café chains back alternatives made of bamboo or paper

More and more supermarkets and discounters are joining the fight against mountains of plastic waste. Lidl, Rewe and Aldi announced that in future they would do without plastic dishes, drinking straws and disposable cups. Rewe plans to remove all disposable plastic tableware from its range by 2020. In 2019, the Edeka discount store Netto will also stop selling plastic cutlery and disposable plastic cups nationwide. Edeka itself is specifically developing reusable articles in order to avoid disposable plastic tableware and is focusing on the increased use of renewable raw materials such as bamboo in this area.

In order to produce less environmentally harmful waste, the Starbucks café chain aims to abolish disposable plastic drinking straws in its 28,000 branches worldwide by 2020. The move is expected to eliminate more than one billion plastic straws from stores each year. Alternative materials and a special lid through which customers can drink directly, for example, would be used to replace the straws. This solution is already available in over 8,000 stores in the USA and Canada. The fast food chain McDonald’s joins the group of companies that wants to remove disposable plastic articles from their range. McDonald’s plan to offer paper drinking straws in future. Glass is also an alternative material that can be used for straws.