If you’re set on cutting down plastic consumption in small, yet impactful ways this year, you can start by ditching plastic straws. They're not biodegradable or compostable, and they're too small to get picked by up by sorting machines at recycling processing plants so they just wind up in the ocean. Thankfully, the move away from plastic straws is not a ban on all straws, which is great news for those who don’t enjoy getting hit in the teeth with ice cubes every time they take a sip.
Eco-friendly plastic alternatives range from metal and glass to silicone and even paper—and no, they’re not all the same. Some are reusable for years and even dishwasher-safe, while others are more of a one-and-done option that won't harm the environment.
To help you weed through the choices, we ranked the most common alternatives plastic straws from the best to the worst. Some are great and some don’t totally suck (get it?), but I think we can all agree that paper straws are the very last—and that's a fact.
1. Silicone Straws
Silicone straws easily top our list because they’re durable, long-lasting, flexible, recyclable, portable, and temperature-resistant for both hot and cold drinks. They’re dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning, too, but you might want to buy a straw brush if yours doesn't come with one already to clean any residue that could grip onto the soft material (especially if you drink smoothies). You can find silicone straws in any color under the sun, which makes them a very fun option. Plus, the soft material means you won’t chip a tooth, making them especially appropriate for little ones.
2. Metal Straws
Don’t believe the myth that metal straws will give your drinks a funny metallic taste—if you’re buying food-grade stainless steel straws, they’re not any different than your utensils. Metal straws are pretty similar to their (distant) silicone cousins in that they’re also recyclable and come in a bunch of colors, which, of course, will typically skew metallic. They're just as easy to tote around as silicone and are even more durable, but they’re not going to be bendable—unless you grab ones that are already bent at an angle. They lose one star for the potential injury they carry for overeager sippers and the fact that they might get too hot to use with a scalding matcha latte.
3. Glass Straws
Glass straws are just straight-up pretty, full stop. If you can find bold glass straws (don’t worry, we did), you might never go back. But they can run the gamut in quality—some are super thin and can break easily while others are thicker and more substantial. Since the material is transparent, you can see if they’re clean or if there's any mold building up, but getting to that level of cleanliness is going to take a straw brush to make sure they’re spotless and not broken as a result. If you want to try out glass straws, look for a hefty set that you can
toss gently place in the dishwasher.
4. Sugarcane Straws
In the second half of our list, we’re moving away from reusable materials and getting closer to straws that will eventually break down (or in the case of paper straws, float around your drink). It’s key to remember that even though these options are less durable and not reusable, they’re still great for the environment and can be more convenient to use because there's no cleaning involved. What sets sugarcane straws apart from this group though is that they’re 100 percent compostable and can be reused a couple of times if carefully cleaned and stored. Keep in mind that hot liquids will likely make them fall apart faster.
5. Bamboo Straws
Bamboo straws are literal stalks of bamboo that have been cut down, hollowed out, and polished into straws. They’re biodegradable, compostable, and great for the environment, too. Don’t try to chew on these, however, because they’ll definitely crack in your mouth and you might open yourself up to the possibility of mouth splinters (fun!). Unlike glass straws that might break or paper straws that might crumple, bamboo straws are easy to carry around in your bag. They’re plant-based (obviously) and can be reused if they’re well maintained.
6. Paper Straws
We tried our best to find one redeemable quality of paper straws, and came up with this: They’re cheap, especially in bulk. This might be the deciding factor for you and your environmentalist party, and that’s cool—you do you! But to be honest, paper straws have no business going into our drinks. They get mushy fast and you'd be lucky to still use it halfway through your iced tea; normally, it disintegrates past the point of recognition in about 10 seconds. Plus, they make everything taste like you chewed on a paper bag. But if you must…