The World’s Most Ecological Straw

An 11 year old recently contacted us, asking if we could send him a free metal straw from our straw company because “it looks cool” and he is bored during coronavirus. My first instinct was to let him know “We are not a straw company, we are flimmakers, and you don’t need a metal straw.”

Instead, I drew a crude illustration, and tried to write something that would actually interest an 11 year old, and help them understand that nature has some pretty nice solutions which we adults often ignore. I am posting it here because I think that most of us adults could probably benefit from reading it too…

What is the Real “Final Straw?”

Thank you for contacting us.

Do you know what the original “straw” was made from?

It was made from the stems of plants like wheat, rice, bamboo, and other grasses. These stems are naturally hollow, just like a straw.

In fact, that’s where the drinking straw got it’s name! Nature made straws a long long time before we started making them out of plastic and metal in factories.

illustration by Patrick M. Lydon for FinalStraw.org

Cool, isn’t it?

So the original straw is not plastic, or metal, but a product made 100% by nature.

But why do plants make straws?

Most plants have stems, but not all of them are hollow “straw” stems. Only certain plants — like those in the grass family — have these kinds of hollow stems.

Why did nature invent such a thing as a hollow stem?

Well “grass” plants in particular (things like wheat, rice, bamboo, reeds, and many others) evolved to push themselves really high up into the sky, and to do it in a very short time. In order to accomplish this, these plants needed to engineer a stem that is strong, lightweight, and quick to grow.

Nature’s solution is a special kind of stem, called a culm. Different from the stem of other plants, a culm is strong on the outside, but hollow on the inside. It’s one of nature’s many amazing inventions, and when it has finished growing and it becomes dry, we humans call it “straw.”

The best part about this natural straw, is you can actually drink from it when it is dry, and indeed, that is exactly what people did before we had plastic and metal straws.

What about metal straws?

So, if we can use the abundant straws that nature makes, simply by picking them from a field, why do we need factories to produce plastic and metal straws?

Well, to be honest, we don’t really need factory-made straws. But adults can be idiots sometimes, and we come up with all sorts of inventions that sound cool, but that are actually pretty harmful for the planet.

So, the next time you think about buying a straw, why not try to grow your own, by planting tall grasses (like barley, rye, wheat, oats, rice, lemongrass, sedge grass, bamboo, wetland reeds, or other edible grasses) nearby your home … or ask a local farmer or gardener if they have leftover clean straw that could be used as a drinking straw.

While you are waiting for your straw to grow, maybe you could also just sip without a straw for a while.

In the end, that’s probably the most ecological choice of all.

Making straws from straw

For inspiration, here is a short video by Alice, a 5th grade student in Panama, who makes her own straw from bamboo.

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