Want to ditch plastic straws? Try sipping out of a hay stem — for real

As more cities discourage the use of plastic straws like these, businesses are developing alternative products. Biodegradable straws made out of hay are among the choices.
As more cities discourage the use of plastic straws like these, businesses are developing alternative products. Biodegradable straws made out of hay are among the choices. Bloomberg

First, it was disposable diapers. Then plastic bags. Now, single-use plastic straws are under attack for contributing to pollution, particularly of our oceans.

Some cities, including San Luis Obispo, already have passed anti-straw laws meant to discourage their use. (In SLO, customers must request straws or get them from dispensers.)

And it's not just cities that are taking aim at straws. State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Monterey, is sponsoring a resolution titled "No Straw November" that, if passed, will challenge Californians to abstain from using plastic straws for the entire month.

Monning calls it "an early step in making bigger changes that will help reduce plastic waste." (Just don't ask us to surrender our sporks.)

Kidding aside, giving up straws is not as easy it sounds. Straws (especially when combined with lids) are great for multitasking. For instance, they make it much easier to sip Big Gulps while driving.

Enter the entrepreneurs.

Thanks to them, we can keep our straws without worrying about adding more plastic to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

There are several replacements for single-use plastic straws: paper straws (not recommended for those who nurse their drink); reusable straws made of silicon, stainless steel and bamboo (some even come with cute little cleaning brushes); and our personal favorite, straws made of hay.

You read that correctly. Hay.

The most advertised brand is called Hay!Straws. According to the company's website, their straws are made from natural wheat stems and are 100 percent biodegradable.

Another selling point: Each straw is unique.

"No two straws are ever the same, because of naturally occurring variance in the wheat plant," says the Hay!Straws website, which also urges consumers to become part of the "straw-volution."

At $8 for 100 straws, that's not too burdensome of a price to pay. But if we really want to get rid of that garbage patch, we're going to have to do a lot more than sip out of Hay!Straws.

The single biggest source of ocean pollution isn't straws or even plastic water bottles. Abandoned plastic fishing nets and other fishing gear make up the bulk of the ocean's load of garbage, and are responsible for killing far more marine life than straws.

Efforts are underway to encourage the recycling of fishing nets and to establish a marking system that would make it possible to track abandoned gear back to its owners.

There also are several programs to retrieve abandoned gear. In the waters off California, more than 100 tons of abandoned fishing gear — along with 650 toilets — have been recovered by the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project.

The project has a website to report abandoned fishing gear, and it urges the public to "serve (as) our 'eyes' on and under the water."

Great idea. Such programs will have a far bigger effect on cleaning up ocean pollution than well-meaning bans on plastic drinking straws. We strongly urge lawmakers and leaders in the fishing industry to make every effort to support and expand them.

Still, there's something to be said for doing whatever is in our power to reduce pollution, even if it makes only a small difference.

So go ahead. If going strawless is not your thing, give those straws made out of straw a shot.