Some friends and I have gone out for lunch, we were all really craving sushi and so decided to treat ourselves after a hard day on campus. Once our drinks arrived, the girl sitting across from me reaches into her bag and pulls out a rectangular black box. Inside the box is a pair of wooden chopsticks and a beautiful glass straw. She politely declines a plastic straw from the waiter and pops the glass straw into her drink. I’m intrigued, so I begin talking to her about why she uses a glass straw and where she bought it from.
She tells me that she bought it at a market from a company called Stream Straws, and that she has given up using straws and other single-use plastic items like shopping bags, because of the damage they cause the environment. I quickly realize how ignorant I have been over the past few years when I start doing my research that evening. Plastic straws are a drain on resources, pollute our oceans, and crowd landfill sites. A massive 500,000 plastic straws are produced per day, only to be used for a couple of minutes and then thrown away. This statistic is distressing considering that plastic straws last forever and never biodegrade. I also discovered that straws used in the United States in a single day could circle the planet 2.5 times! So how can we start making a very necessary change? That’s what Eva Zimmermann and Matthew Meyer, founders of Stream Straws, are trying to help the population achieve one glass straw at a time.
Recently, I was lucky enough to talk to Eva, one of the co-founders to learn more about Stream Straws and what the company is all about, in the hopes that more awareness can be created around this very serious issue.
How was Stream Straws born? Who created the brand?
Stream Straws was born when the need for a simple solution to a big issue was impossible to ignore. At that time in 2015, we were running a cold-pressed juice bar in Cape Town where we had implemented a plastic-free rule from day one. Yet, people still wanted to sip their smoothies and juices through a straw, and the only non-plastic option on the market at the time was paper straws that became soggy after a few sips. Visiting our coastline almost daily, the problem of long-lasting plastic products like straws was always staring us right in the face, with plastic having washed up along the shore. I have my roots in Norway where recycling is taught before kindergarten, and so I eventually decided it was a good enough reason to let go of one business to start another one that would have a larger positive effect on the whole planet. Stream Straws was then created to give people and businesses an eco-friendly and long-lasting alternative to single-use plastic straws.
Many people are unaware of the damage plastic causes for our environment, what do you feel people need to know most urgently about this problem?
Every single piece of plastic ever made still exists! In a mere 50 years, we have produced 8,3 billion tons of plastic, all of which still exists on this planet. Only 12% of this has been given new life through recycling. The rest is filling up our landfills, polluting our oceans and the natural world, and harming the creatures of this planet. Furthermore, petroleum is used to make plastic, so the use and production of plastic products is directly linked to supporting the fossil fuel industry. From an environmental perspective, there are many flashing red lights. On a personal level, I think it’s important for consumers to know what they are supporting when buying and using plastic products, and that there are better and more environmentally friendly options available.
Your straws have a life-time guarantee! That’s awesome. What makes them so durable?
We outsource the glass we use to make our straws from the best suppliers in the world and make them by hand here in Cape Town. They are not made with regular glass, but Borosilicate glass that is the most durable glass available on the market. Therefore, we are happy to give our straws a life-time guarantee; in fact, our straws are so durable we now have restaurants and hotels using them all over South Africa and across the world.
Is it easy to transition from using plastic straws to glass? Do you have any tips for making the switch easier or cleaning suggestions for when one is eating/drinking out?
We are currently conducting research together with The Beach Co-operative (with seed funding provided by WWF Nedbank Green Trust) on the topic of changing to reusable glass straws for both private and public use. The responses thus far have been very positive with people finding it easy to make the change. Making the initial change also often has a snowball effect where one might start by using our reusable straws, then move on to also bringing their own bags when shopping, and even bringing their own mug for take-away coffees. We also sell a Straws Sleeve made of sustainable hemp fabric that makes the straw easy to carry with you when you’re on the move, and all packs of straws come with a brush for easy cleaning. When I’m out having a smoothie or drink I either ask for no straw of bring my own. This also creates very necessary conversation and might be the most important job we do.
Speaking to Eva and some friends who have been leading a predominantly plastic-free life has really opened my eyes and made me consider what I am consuming more deeply. I have since stopped using plastic bags and have purchased loads of fabric ones for when I go grocery shopping. The thought of using a straw makes me feel as if there is something morally wrong with me and I have stopped putting plastic coffee lids on my take-away coffees. These are just baby steps, but they are something, and it is all these small changes that when combined make a huge difference in the greater scheme of things.