The oldest drinking straws we have evidence of were made of metal.
In 1928, British archaeologist Leonard Woolley’s discovery of the tomb of Queen Puabi of Sumeria in present-day Iraq revealed wonders to the world, including the wondrously mundane: a straw dated to 3,000 B.C.E., made of gold and decorated with inlays of lapis lazuli.
You won’t find that in any promotional products catalog. But promo is in a great position right now to drive sales in durable, reusable straws, as environmentalists around the U.S. and worldwide push to eradicate disposable plastic straws—and, in some areas, single-use plastic in its entirety.
In May, the European Union proposed a new law that would ban some single-use plastics, including balloon sticks, cutlery, and, yes, straws. Taiwan is phasing in a blanket ban on single-use plastics, including straws, to be fully implemented by 2030. India is more ambitious, with a commitment to eliminate use by 2022. Corporations are following suit—it was just announced that the Walt Disney Company will be eliminating single-use plastic straws in all of its parks worldwide by 2019.
In the U.S., 14 municipalities have enacted straw bans or restrictions—primarily beach communities, such as Miami Beach, Florida and Malibu, California. Straws can have an outsized impact on the environment because of their size: They can literally slip through the cracks of machines used in recycling, making their way to the ocean despite end users’ best intentions.
There has been pushback, however. Since Starbucks announced its decision to eliminate all plastic straw use by 2020 (perhaps inspired by Seattle, where its headquarters are housed), disability rights groups and activists have been quick and vocal in their opposition.
The concern is that many of the alternatives to disposable plastic straws are insufficient for the needs of certain people with disabilities. People with muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and other disorders that affect muscle use are limited in their ability to lift cups with lids (such as Starbucks is moving to) and find it difficult to clean many reusable straw options. Ailments that cause the jaws to clench, such as panic disorders, make it impossible to fit most reusable options into the mouth. Many in the disability community need straws that are bendable.
It’s a difficult situation. Environmentalists and disability rights activists are odd communities to find in opposition—and both are used to drawn-out battles against seemingly impossible odds. But our industry may have the opportunity to cut in sideways across that debate. Branded, reusable straws give businesses both the incentive and the ability to reduce the use of disposable plastic straws without eliminating them.
There are several fun, branded heavy duty reusable plastic options. And you won’t get Queen Puabi’s gold version, but metal straws are also available, laser-engraved and silicone-tipped. Instead of banning plastic straws, businesses can easily get reusable straws into the hands of those who can use them—and promote themselves in the process.
© 2018 Genevieve Trainor, Bankers Advertising