The final (plastic) straw- a moment of science

Storm Team 2

Plastic straws, along with other single use plastics, have been prohibited in Charleston for about a month now in a hope to limit the amount of waste that ends up in our ecosystem. 

Hooked Seafood on Market Street is just one of many restaurants who made the transition before the January 1st deadline, “We’re huge advocates for the environment and 100% supportive of the movement to move from plastics to more biodegradable products,” Executive Chef Thad Stuckey says. 

“Straws are tricky though because we go through a lot. Currently, on a weekly basis we go through two to three thousand straws a week, in the height of summer we’re going through five thousand straws a week.”

Hooked Seafood now uses a plastic straw alternative made from biocompostable cornstarch called PLA.  These typically green PLA straws are popping up in more Lowcountry restaurants as they are much better for the environment than their plastic counterpart, while providing a much better drinking experience compared to another eco-friendly option, paper straws which get soggy quickly.

A New Challenger Approaches

A local business is now providing another option” wheat! Holy City Straw Company co-founder Tom Crowley explains how they’re made, “It’s wheat stem. When the wheat farmers come through and cut this is either tossed away or burned in the fields. It’s not the grain, which is why we can call them gluten free.”

Even if you can tolerate gluten- don’t try eating these! They’re not edible but they do make good straws, both in hot and cold drinks. They can be recycled when you’re done unlike PLA and some paper straws which are compostable but must be sent to specialized facilities to break them down completely.

The downside to all natural straws like wheat and bamboo? They’re more brittle compared to the plastic-like material of PLA. 

Our plastic waste will outlive us, and likely outlive the generations that come after us.

Even then, PLA, paper, and wheat straws are much better options compared to the now-banned alternative as city officials estimate nearly 8 tons of plastic waste end up in Charleston harbor each year. Hopefully this new legislation lowers that number but unfortunately plastic will make its way out to the ocean where it will stay until it decomposes 200 years later. To put that into perspective, take a mainstay of our Lowcountry landscape: Fort Sumter. Construction began in 1829. If a worker used a plastic straw then it could easily be on display at the Visitor Center today.

By eliminating plastic waste from our everyday life, whether its wheat, paper, or cornstarch straws- we can insure a better future for decades to come.  

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson

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