old bamboo straw

The bamboo straw is a popular alternative to the single-use plastic straw. Attempts to environmental conservation seem to better work if they do not present restrictions to a comfortable lifestyle.

Bamboo Straw by virtualtimecapsule on Sketchfab

the road to the bamboo straw 

In 2015, marine conservation biologist Christine Figgener uploaded a video of her in-water research trip in Costa Rica, showing a male olive ridley sea turtle suffering from a 10-12 cm plastic straw stuck in its nostril. The research team  surrounding Figgener decided to film the removal of the straw to raise awareness for the plastic pollution of the oceans.

Next to straws, there are many other forms of plastic debris in the oceans today.

Figgener’s video did not only shock millions of viewers but inspired multiple movements against single use plastic. One of the them being #stopsucking, an elaborate celebrity endorsed campaign against the use of plastic straws and pollution of the oceans.

# stopsucking campaign video | Source: YouTube

What came with the public vilification of the plastic straw was the demand for alternatives. A quick look into the history of the straw shows that it has been used as a convenience drinking tool for centuries, the first versions of it dating back to 3000 BC (Roy et al., 2021, p. 3). But interestingly, it has frequently changed its shape and materiality in recent years. From paper and plastic to metal and glass and bamboo.

a collection of bamboo straws | Source: feepik

Different times and different needs transformed the materiality of the straw according to societal markers of the time. Most recently the request for sustainable materials has reached an all-time high . Bamboo, with its fast growing and biodegradable quality fits the needs of the time and culture around more sustainable living by reducing plastic waste, reusing objects and recycling materials (Skuratov et. al., 2021, p. 150). It is representative of the advances into more sustainable consumption. With the 21. century being an elemental timeframe in the fight against environmental pollution and climate change, the bamboo straw and the dynamics of our consumption culture exemplify the challenges our society is currently facing. 

how we approach sustainable living

The issue with the very targeted campaign against plastic straws was the limited call-to-action. While people where laying off of the plastic straws in bars and cafés, they would still use single use plastic in every other aspect of life. While it could be seen as one step into the right direction, it is also illustrative of the factor of convenience connected to environmentalism. People are hesitant to accept lifestyle shortcomings connected to the reduction of waste and rather look for contributions that take little time and effort (Flemming, 2020).

bamboo straw in cocktail illustration | Source: freepik

Name: bamboo straw

3D Model

Creator: Lara Wischert

Date: 27-01-2022

Place: Maastricht

Themes: Environmentalism

Captured with Canon EOS250D, tripod, lightbox, lazy susan

Processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional Software run on Windows 10 (64-bit)

Sketchfab: https://skfb.ly/ospIC

Physical Object

Size: 20 x 0.6 x 0.6 cm

Weight: 6,7 g

Material: Bamboo 

Because there is a difference in long-term results and short-term action, a majority
of people do not see the value in changing their consumption behaviour and lifestyle
(Howes, 2017). More recently protests inspired by Greta Thunberg with Fridays for
Future have been creating more public awareness and willingness to take action,
especially within younger generations (Buzatu, 2021, p. 211).

Next to the efforts of individuals, missing overarching policies for environmental
conservation and targeting of big corporations need to be named as contributors to the
slow-moving advance and lack of streamlined action (Howes, 2017). The
accountability of corporations also needs to be addressed on the issue of greenwashing,
meaning the act of advertising something as more environmentally friendly then it
actually is (Buzatu, 2021, p. 212). Some corporations take advantage of consumers’
intention to be more sustainable by greenwashing their products. This misinformation
complicates the advances of people trying to take a more sustainable path. An example
is “biodegradable plastic”. Even though it is advertised as biodegradable, the specific
environment that would be necessary for its disintegration are not given at an ordinary
landfill, which means that the bio-plastic would be as polluting as normal plastic
(Viera et al., 2020, p.178).

plastic and alternatives

straw alternatives | Source: freepik

As a reaction to the rejection of plastic straws, the market is booming with
alternatives. Multiple straw variations have become popular and “trendy” lifestyle
products. But as researcher Takunda Chitaka found out, not all “sustainable”
alternatives are better for the environment than the plastic straw When taking
production emissions into account and how many times a person would actually use
a straw, the most sustainable option is not as obvious anymore (NowThis Earth, 2021).
She suggests a case by case approach.
Take a look at the video below to lean more.

Are sustainable straw options really all sustainable? | Source:

This means that it would only make sense for a regular straw user to change over
to the reusable options. This transition requires a lifestyle change and intention to
reducing waste. Even though the look at the most sustainable straw option differs from
person to person, Takunda Chitaka remarks, that the easiest way to protect the ocean
is to dispose trash in the appropriate way.

issues with our actions

The discourse surrounding the plastic ban and the way these campaigns were
approached speak to bigger societal issues. Going back to the #stopsucking movement
as an example, the able bodied perspective of this campaign missed to reflect on the
position of disabled people. The movement received backlash because multiple people
came forward on social media making the public aware that the plastic straw is not
only a lifestyle product but also a necessity for many disabled people. They criticized
the ban as ableist, as it was disregarding and down- playing the needs of the disabled
community (Wolbring 2008, p. 253).
Have a look into Sarah Todd Hammers explanation of the issue.

Is the plastic straw ban ableist? | Source:

Most straw alternatives are not an option for many disabled people, because it is
mainly the bendable characteristic of the plastic straw that is helpful and shows the
least possibility for injury (Roy et al., 2021, p. 5 ). As Sarah Todd Hammer describes
in the video, it is not only the general safety but also the culture of shaming whoever
is using a plastic straw that creates a discomfort when explaining a need for it. The stop sucking campaign acknowledged this after the complaints and emphasized that people should have access when needed (NowThis Earth, 2021).

What can be taken away from this case is that there is no simple solution to a
complicated problem like plastic pollution and climate change. The hyperfocus on the
plastic straw has been problematic, as it over-simplified the main issue of plastic
pollution and created unnecessary hurdles for disabled people. The able-bodied
perspective created a one-dimensional approach to banning plastic straws and an
environment that equalled not using plastic straws with being sustainable and
environmentally cautious.

At the same time, the campaigning made plastic pollution become a mainstream
topic, and publicly discussed. The more discussion there is around sustainability and
all it entails, the more people will find a way to make their routines more sustainable
and the more pressure is put on corporations as well.
The continuous development of alternative sustainable products like the bamboo straw
support the transition into a more sustainable lifestyle and create easy swaps for
people, which will eventually pave the way into a more environmentally conscious


Buzatu, G. D. (2021). The concept of Greenwashing- The effects of Green advertising and corporate responsibility on consumer perception and behavior..Annals of the University of Craiova, Series Biology, Horticulture, Food Products Processing Technology, Environmental Engineering26, 211–218. https://doi.org/10.52846/bhfe.26.2021.29

Flemming, M. (2020, February 26). Marketing Week. MarketingWeek. Retrieved February 5, 2022, from https://www.marketingweek.com/brands-sustainability-convenience/

Howes, H. (2017, April 2). After 25 years of trying, why aren’t we environmentally sustainable yet? The Conversation. Retrieved March 19, 2022, from https://theconversation.com/after-25-years-of-trying-why-arent-we-environmentally-sustainable-yet-73911

Roy, P., Ashton, L., Wang, T., Corradini, M. G., Fraser, E. D., Thimmanagari, M., Tiessan, M., Bali, A., Saharan, K. M., Mohanty, A. K., & Misra, M. (2021). Evolution of drinking straws and their environmental, economic and societal implications. Journal of Cleaner Production, 316, 128234. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.128234

Skuratov, S., Danilova-Volkovskaya, G., Yanukyan, E., & Beilin, M. (2021). Bamboo as a Unique Ecological Building Material of the XXI Century: Bamboo Description, Bamboo Physical and Mechanical Properties Studies. Materials Science Forum, 1043, 149–154. https://doi.org/10.4028/www.scientific.net/MSF.1043.149

Viera, J. S., Marques, M. R., Nazareth, M. C., Jimenez, P. C., & Castro, T. B. (2020). On replacing single-use plastic with so-called biodegradable ones: The case with straws. Environmental Science & Policy, 106, 177–181. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2020.02.007

Wolbring, G. (2008). The Politics of Ableism. Development, 51(2), 252–258. https://doi.org/10.1057/dev.2008.17

YoutTube Videos:

Sea Turtle Biologist. (2015, August 11). Sea Turtle with Straw up its Nostril – “NO” TO PLASTIC STRAWS [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wH878t78bw

Lonely Whale. (2017, August 8). #StopSucking | Lonely Whale | For A Strawless Ocean [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q91-23B8yCg 

NowThis Earth. (2021, March 8). Did Ditching Plastic Straws Do More Harm Than Good? | One Small Step [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gxq1XLqWIA 

Hammer, S. T. [ Sarah Todd Hammer]. (2020, May 30). WHY THE STRAW BAN IS ABLEIST // Why people with disabilities need straws [CC] [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyuttyfZNqY