Throwback Thursday: A brief history of the drinking straw

The days when we will be able to sip a “tasty beverage” through a plastic straw seem to be numbered.

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Iconic brands, cities and even countries—the European Union plans to ban plastic straws by 2021—have joined the crusade to “stop sucking.” And you know the battle is irredeemably lost for those of us on the other side of the plastics barricades when Disney jumps on the bandwagon: The Walt Disney Co. announced on July 25 that it would ban plastic straws from all of its resorts, theme parks and attractions by mid-2019.

There has been some pushback on the ban, notably from the disabled community, where straws can be a lifesaver. Critics of the movement to rid single-use plastics from our lives also note that plastic straws, in the grand scheme of things, are not the Great Satan. Activists retort that straws are a “gateway issue to help people start thinking about the global plastic pollution problem,” Plastic Pollution Coalition CEO Dianna Cohen recently told Business Insider. "They've been designed to be used for a very short amount of time, and then be tossed away," she said. 

Like the plastic bag ban that swept through supermarkets, the plastic straw ban has taken on a momentum of its own. Banning the ban is probably not a battle worth fighting, frankly. And I have to say that environmental activists have some points. I was astonished to learn that Americans use 500 million drinking straws every day, according to statistics referenced by the U.S. National Park Service.

The question, then, is what do we replace them with? Paper, glass and stainless-steel straws all have their drawbacks, as Clare Goldsberry explained so well in her blog post, “Paper straws are becoming ubiquitous from the mainland to the islands.” In that article she also profiles a company that has developed a reusable plastic straw, the Tfees straw, which is injection molded from Eastman’s Tritan co-polyester material. It’s dishwasher safe and transparent, so that you can visually verify its cleanliness. It would seem to be a good, bipartisan solution, unless you’re an ideological purist. “In trying to market her product to various restaurants and bars, she is being told that they are going ‘plastic free,’ which means they can’t use her reusable plastic straw, even though it’s an ideal alternative to a paper straw,” writes Goldsberry.

You can’t win. But let’s have a bit of fun, anyway, and fire up Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine to learn about the evolution of the drinking straw.

First stop: A Sumerian tomb circa 2000 to 3000 BC.

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