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I recently bought a set of reusable stainless steel straws. They were expensive, but have a timeless "design" and have a build quality that gives the impression they will last a lifetime.

When dirty I throw them in the dishwasher with the other cutleries. They don't take any space in the washer so cleaning them is essentially "free". (Making abstraction of the ecological cost of a dishwasher.)




Honest question: How many plastic straws do you have to save to offset the CO2 cost of building a steel straw? Also, are paper straws really better, CO2-wise?


I think the meme of carbon footprint has gotten too deep. We need to address carbon at the power generation, deforestation, and transportation levels. At lower levels or carbon footprint, it's better to worry more about how waste is handled. If we're not reducing, reusing, and recycling, then we're probably adding more junk to the environment that still damages ecosystems.


> At lower levels or carbon footprint, it's better to worry more about how waste is handled.

No it isn't. Most countries have plenty of land available for storing waste. So long as its stored properly the environmental impact is negligible. Carbon footprint is far more important.


But where does the larger carbon footprint of reusable, or biodegradable items come from vs the one time use plastic versions? Theres a good chance a lot of it comes from power generation. If we have plentiful clean energy, then higher energy costs to manufacture things in ways to reduce waste results in a net good. So focus on the carbon footprint of the big stuff, while simultaneously reducing physical waste.


I don't know, but I think C02 isn't the primary concern. Petroleum usage and plastic waste are greater concerns. And if you're worried about the air, note that plastic manufacturing produces considerably more toxic gases than steel production.

Considering how many vehicles and buildings are built with steel on this planet, I'd bet that the volume of steel needed to provide every person on earth with a steel straw once wouldn't even be noticed by the steel producers.

Actually, I just took a few minutes to look a couple things up and did the math. The US today likely recycles more than 6M tons of steel every year (it was 5.8M and rising in 2014), and a ton of steel can produce around 40K straws, if I divide one ton by the weight of a steel straw I saw on Amazon. This means we could produce steel straws for all on earth with about 200K tons of recycled steel, or less than 4% of the steel we're recycling every year in the US alone.

Note the steel industry and the EPA have somewhat different numbers for amount of recycling, it may be due to US vs global recycling, but I went with the EPA's which is more conservative.

I don't know about Taiwan, but note that metal recycling in the US is currently twice the weight of metal recycling, and plastic is twice the weight of land filling compared to metal; in other words plastic is a much larger problem.

https://archive.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/web/html/

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-11/documents...

https://www.steel.org/~/media/Files/AISI/Fact%20Sheets/50_Fu...

With these things in mind, I'd personally be pretty surprised if a steel straw that lasts 10 years wasn't environmentally better (and by more than a little) on all scales than plastic straws for someone who drinks a soda with a straw every day for lunch.


> but I think C02 isn't the primary concern. Petroleum usage and plastic waste are greater concerns.

CO2 is the primary concern. Storing waste is not a problem in most parts of the world.

The amount of steel it would require isn't important. What's important is how much energy it takes to make that straw and the other environmental impacts of doing so. It takes magnitudes more energy to melt steel than it does to melt plastic. It would take years to offset the CO2 costs of a steel straw. You also need to factor in the energy and water it takes to clean the straw and the likelihood of damaging or losing it over that time.

The best option is to stop using straws. They're completely unnecessary unless you have a physical disability.


> The best option is to stop using straws. They're completely unnecessary unless you have a physical disability.

I will note that straws are useful while driving, as you can drink without obscuring your view of the road. There's an argument that you shouldn't be distracting yourself from the road like that, but that's sort of a different discussion.


> The best option is to stop using straws.

Hey, I completely agree with you there!

> CO2 is the primary concern.

Why?

> Storing waste is not a problem in most parts of the world.

I didn't say anything about storage space. Storage of waste isn't even close to the primary reason to avoid plastic waste.

> The amount of steel it would require isn't important.

It absolutely is, even if you only care about CO2. This statement contradicts other things you said. You can only make claims about one being better if you compare how much it takes to produce.

I'm trying to find sources on tons of CO2 emissions per ton of plastic & steel, and as a non-expert using Google, it's hard to pinpoint. But I get the feeling that metals are 2-3x the CO2 emissions of plastic. A steel straw would be much heavier than a plastic one, so based on this guesstimation, I'd expect CO2 parity for 1 steel straw to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 plastic straws. If I'm anywhere close to accurate, that doesn't seem like it takes very long to beat plastic on CO2.

If you think I'm wrong, you'll have to demonstrate it by showing how much steel it would require...

> What's important is how much energy it takes

I don't buy that blanket generalization. Energy is a highly debatable potentially misleading issue, and doesn't necessarily have a high impact on C02, if renewable energy sources are used like hydro & solar. We might be emitting CO2 by burning coal today, but we don't have to burn coal in the future.

> You also need to factor in the energy and water it takes to clean the straw and the likelihood of damaging or losing it over that time.

Sure, fine. That changes the average life of the straw. Let's say it's 1 year instead of 10. For someone who uses one straw per day at lunch only on work days, we'd have to compare the carbon footprint of 1 steel straw to about 260 plastic straws. Even for CO2 emissions, the disposable ones are at a pretty severe disadvantage any way you look at it.


Don't forget the cost of all the carbon burned to heat the water each time you wash the reusable straw.

As the other poster said, this is very hard to calculate.


Perhaps it is hard to calculate exactly, but it is fairly obvious that a reusable steel straw is going to have an environmental impact over one's lifetime that is orders of magnitude worse than using disposable plastic straws.


If you're throwing it in the dishwasher with an otherwise already full load, you're not using any more energy to clean the straw than you would be to wash the rest of the dishes anyway.


Full carbon costs are extremely hard to calculate, and kind of miss the point of this intervention. An better question is "What happens to different types of straws when they reach the end of their useful life".


I've read that a dishwasher is less wasteful than hand-washing of dishes (perhaps this isn't true for people who are very, very scrupulous about their use of water while washing dishes, but that's not most of us).


Yeah, modern dishwashers use less water per washing cycle than it takes to fill the kitchen basin for handwashing.


Fill the basin? You don't just scrub each dish with a damp sponge spotted with dish soap then rinse it?


To be honest, I used to wash dishes under running warm water, probably quite wasteful.

By the way, around here (North Europe) we have special dishwashing brushes that apparently aren’t a big thing in most parts of the world.


Any examples of the special dishwashing brushes? I'm curious.


These sort of things, with a handle and nylon bristles: https://www.amazon.com/OXO-Good-Grips-Dish-Brush/dp/B00004OC...


Oh, that's what I use (I'm in California). They're pretty common here as well. I don't understand people who use sponges. They're mold applicators as far as I'm concerned :)


I like to use a brush to get off all the gunk and then do detail work with a sponge.


A lot of people do it that way. Anyway I rinse the dishes but I'm not sure I'm using less water that way.


Depends on the dishwasher setting used and number of place settings being washed of course. [0]

[0] PDF https://web.archive.org/web/20091109165849/http://efficient-...


Assuming you use the dishwasher correctly: you don't overload it, You don't run it too empty, and you don't pre-wash/rinse your dishes. Fail either of the above and a dishwaser uses more water.

When you overload the dishwasher things don't get clean and then you wash by hand afterwards (in the case of pots/pans this might still be less water use just because when hand washing you are likely to drain the filthy water half way through)

I've seen people who scrub the food off by hand under running water before putting it in the dish washer - they are clearly using more water since hand washing plus rinsing the soap off is using less water than they use for the rood rinse.

That said, I would not expect a dishwasher can actually wash the inside of your straws so that is one of the things that should be reserved for hand washing. If you use a minimal amount of water in your wash sink, and a minimal amount of rinse water hand washing can be a low water use thing. Most people leave the water running for longer than they need to for rinsing and this wastes a lot of water.


Arguments about water "consumption" (hint: it's still water afterwards - it tends to clean itself if you didn't outright poison it and wait a bit) do not apply in humid regions - saving water someplace else doesn't help regions with water scarcity one bit. Berlin is an extreme example, they need to pump water out of the ground in any case to prevent the area from reverting to a bog.

Hot water usually costs a lot of valuable energy though.


The world is going to have more, not fewer, dry regions where water must be conserved over time.


I put straws in the basket with silverware. Works fine unless you've let something really dry on there (like a smoothie).


water is not the problem. Electricity is.

and besides, not everything go in the dish washer. And moreover some the dish washer soap can attack the surface of many things => increasing the need to replace those things...


I think people in California, Cape Town, or various similar locales might disagree with the idea that conserving water is unimportant. How much electricity does a dishwasher really use, anyway?


About 1-2 kWh and 4-6 gallons of water per use.


you're right, while trying to open the eyes of the older poster, I actually closed mine :-( oops


Absolutely. A dishwasher in the average American household, unless they're having massive dinner parties every night, is wanton arrogance. They not only use more resources than handwashing, it also takes longer.


I am happy to report that you are completely wrong about this.

The water usage is almost a 10x difference and the power usage of handwashing is 2/3 more:

"A European study comparing hand washing to machine dish washing found that hand washers used as much as 27 gallons of water and 2.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy to wash 12 place settings, compared with the 4 gallons and 1.5 kWh used by a hyperefficient dishwasher to wash the same number of dishes."

https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/wellbeing/washing-dishes-...


27 gallons is over 120 L that's over a tenth of a ton of water I don't believe that figure


Wait until you figure out how much even a low flow shower uses.


Yes I could I have a Btech in thermo fluids :-) but this is doing the dishes by hand after a large meal no way do you use that much.


It must surely include rinsing under a fast-flowing tap (something I rarely bother with personally), and/or maybe doing the washing under a running tap too. I don't see how you could get to 120L otherwise.

120L = 7 very full sinkfuls of my fairly standard size kitchen sink. 7! For 12 people's-worth of stuff!


It sounds like he was describing just measuring how much a typical person washing dishes uses. I'm sure if you were specifically concerned with conserving water you could do better.


I noticed that the photo at the top of the article shows somebody washing under a running tap, so maybe that's how they got to 120L.

I'm not myself concerned all that much about conserving water, but I am a normal person, so I don't wash my dishes under running water. I fill the sink up with water, stick in some washing-up liquid as it fills, then once it's mostly full (12-15L of water?) I use that. Total use per wash is then 12-15L. Maybe a bit more if I give something a rinse. (Very much optional in my view for most items - but some things do need it.)

You can wash a lot of stuff in that much water! So that's why I am a bit surprised at people using 120L to wash twelve places'-worth. That's eight times the amount I'd use for washing 3-4 people's-worth of stuff and all the items used to prepare the food in the first place.

Poor scalability!

(I think my dishwasher uses 17L per wash so I don't worry too much about using that instead. I am quite lazy.)


Plug the sink next time you're washing dishes.


Why do you think I don't? And use a washing up bowl


I never do except by accident and it illustrates to me that I'm using a ton of water when I hand-wash dishes.


You seem to misunderstand. Dishwashers use less heat and water than hand washing, not more.


Am I the only one who slightly squeeze my straws with my teeth and mouth? A vegan restaurant I know has metal straws and it's so incredibly uncomfortable that I'm avoiding buying drinks with straws there.


Why use a straw at all instead of just drinking directly from a drinking glass, thus avoiding the need to wash and manage the straws?

Also, glass is a better material than steel for food applications, and glass straws exist, so they are probably a better choice (unless there's a significant chance of breakage like giving them to small children).


That's my question too, why is the straw in every day life necessary?


What about milkshakes and frappucinos? These would be awkward without straws. (And frappucions are a huge seller to the 14 - 20 yr old demographic)


I feel guilty when I get a soothie somewhere and don't have my straws and decide to go ahead and get a plastic one because I really want to drink it on the way home. Definitely good to have though. You need a nice pipette thing to clean them but it really isn't that hard.


Do you have a link to the product you purchased?




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