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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hey, I completely agree with you there!
> CO2 is the primary concern.
> 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.
As the other poster said, this is very hard to calculate.
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.
 PDF https://web.archive.org/web/20091109165849/http://efficient-...
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.
Hot water usually costs a lot of valuable energy though.
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...
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."
120L = 7 very full sinkfuls of my fairly standard size kitchen sink. 7! For 12 people's-worth of stuff!
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.
(I think my dishwasher uses 17L per wash so I don't worry too much about using that instead. I am quite lazy.)
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).