You only need to look at the statistics to understand how urgently change is needed to combat the effects of plastic on the environment: an estimated 8.5 billion plastic straws used each year in the UK have been linked to the 150 million tonnes of plastic now residing in the world’s oceans. In Europe alone, approximately 25.8 tonnes of plastic is wasted annually, of which 31% ends up in landfills, 39% is burned, and less than 30% is recycled.

None of these straws ever biodegrade and, as a result, every single one that has ever been in existence still remains on this planet today in some form. In terms of the effects of plastic waste on nature, more than a million seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine animals have perished from ingesting the synthetic material. The tiny micro-plastic substances that eventually accumulate in the sea, soil and waterways hamper species from carrying out their own manners of survival such as respiration and movement. In turn, we ingest these toxic micro-plastics from eating the marine species and drinking water. By 2050, it is predicted that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.

Responses to the plastic epidemic

These statistics are hard to ignore and, as a result, governments have been prompted in recent times to find ways to prevent any further incline in plastic waste in the Earth’s biosphere. In fact, UK PM, Theresa May, announced plastic waste as “one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world”.

The EU has announced plans for a rapid decline in plastic household items with a deadline of 2021. One can already see ways that green changes have been implemented, such as plastic bag charges and encouraging re-usable coffee cups.

Once ubiquitous, plastic straws are no longer a typical household item. Many businesses are under pressure to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and find eco-friendly alternatives. The fast-food giant McDonalds began replacing plastic straws with paper ones in September 2018 in all its UK and Ireland restaurants – a simple swap that impacts the use of 1.8 million straws a day in the UK. Weatherspoons followed by removing plastic straws in all of its 900 pubs across the UK and Ireland.

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Thanks to proactive government agency and mass media communication acting as a catalyst for this green movement, almost everyone has become aware of the detrimental effects of plastic on the environment. Permeating much of the public conscience, children, the elderly, big enterprises, boutique shops, and everyone in between have become key members in effecting change.

Alternative solutions to plastic straws

When one thinks of a material alternative to plastic straws, the most common answer is paper, which has already established itself as a common fixture in the hospitality industry. However, a recent contender to the paper straw is one made out of pasta. Barnaby Birckbeck, one of the founders of Spaghetti Straws (https://www.spaghetti-straws.com/), discovered the immense benefits that these straws offer as well as a gap in the market for easy accessibility to them.

According to Barnaby, “spaghetti straws do not go soggy like paper straws, so you can enjoy your drink slowly without any paper residue. Pasta straws can also snap to size so can easily be made to fit any type of glass and therefore there is no need to buy assortments of sizes for your bar or restaurant”. Reflecting on his two year travels sailing around the British Virgin Isles, Barnaby recounts “the effects on wildlife are devastating and having personally witnessed a turtle being cut free from a plastic bag in Indonesia, we decided to try to go as waste-free as we can. There are great alternatives out there to replace plastic, it is just about breaking the habit.”

With an increasing demand for eco-friendly products and corporate social responsibility, businesses are seeking ways that allow them to adapt to a greener approach, and Barnaby’s business is directly assisting them with this goal.

What about people with gluten allergies? “At the moment we are working with our factory to create a gluten free line of Spaghetti Straws so everyone can see how great they are! Stay tuned, we hope they’ll be released in the near future.” Another possible concern regarding straws made of pasta would be the aftertaste, but according to users of these straws, they leave no wheat taste on the palette.

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Spaghetti Straws co-founders, Barnaby Birckbeck and Frankie Fanton

How do spaghetti straws compare to other popular alternatives?

Pasta straws simply consist of flour and water so can be added to the compost heap after using them. In terms of price, pasta straws are slightly cheaper than paper, with a home pack of 130 spaghetti straws bought online for £8 and 150 paper straws can be bought on Amazon for £12.99.

In terms of ditching the straw entirely, people do rely on them for drinking, perhaps due to disability or age. Barnaby believes that spaghetti straws “may take a bit of encouragement for people to realise that this is a great idea and try it for themselves but we do strongly believe that it will happen and be adopted on a large scale”. Considering how quickly the paper straw swept the shelves of supermarkets, perhaps it will not take long to become the next trendy concept of 2019.

Does replacing your straw actually have a positive impact?

It is easy to believe that our individual actions have little impact on huge, looming challenges. However, every act counts. Barnaby and his co-founder Frankie urge people to eliminate the ‘it’s only one’ idea from their minds. Says Barnaby: “Countless times we hear that ‘it’s only one straw’, ‘it’s only one bottle’, ‘it’s only one plastic fork’. We need to realise that everyone makes an impact, and everyone’s ‘one’ straw all come together to pollute our world with millions of plastics that never disintegrate. It’s very simple to refuse a plastic straw or to have your coffee in your reusable cup, and what we like to do is to go beyond this and confront the bar or restaurant about their use of plastic and help them with alternatives.”

Whichever straw you find best, it is important to remember that the pursuit of plastic alternatives stems from the fact that plastic is literally everywhere and is currently embedded in how our society functions. With all these eco-friendly alternatives becoming more and more available, it is difficult not to join the green bandwagon and all work together towards a more sustainable future – a penne for your thoughts…

To purchase spaghetti straws, click this link https://www.spaghetti-straws.com/

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