Do you ever feel guilty about tossing out plastic drinking straws day after day? You could try the paper variety, but the wax coating makes them unrecyclable so they'll end up in a landfill anyway, not to mention all the packaging and fossil fuels it took to get them from the factory to your glass. Reusable straws are a good alternative... if you're willing to invest the time it takes to clean the mold-prone interior (plus they can cost some serious $$$!!!).
Ultimately, you can't get past the fact that plastic drinking straws are the most convenient way to slurp. After all, Americans use 500 million every day and we're not slowing down! At less than a penny each, what alternative could compete?
Well, how about a free, natural, and fun DIY straw? Turns out nature provides its own straws and you can start growing them in your home today. And when you're done, just toss them in the compost!
Let's change the conversation around disposable straws and, maybe one day, every window booth of every local diner will have a plant box and a pair of snips!
Step 1: Choose a Reed
There are many different kinds of reeds and you should choose the one that best suits your situation. One reed might grow faster, but not be tolerant of cold climates. Another might grow to your preferred diameter, but require more light than your kitchen windowsill can provide. Weigh these factors and do some research to choose the best DIY straw for your home.
IMPORTANT: Though we aren't eating the reeds, be careful to check whether your choice has any toxic properties, especially if you have pets. Allergies may also be a consideration for flowering species.
For my planter, I chose the Horsetail reed. It has a good diameter and internode length, grows in most climates, doesn't flower (so allergies aren't a problem), and is very low maintenance. It does contain crystalline structures that can upset the stomach if eaten, but I don't have any pets so that shouldn't be a problem.
Horsetail can be found at many gardening and home improvement stores, as it is often used by landscapers as a fill for areas with poor drainage. As the reeds are so hardy, you can also have them shipped to your door by any one who has them growing in their yard. Ebay is actually a very good resource for finding reeds!
Step 2: Choose a Pot
Again, this decision will be based upon your circumstances. How much room do you have to spare? How dense does your choice of reed grow? How fast does it grow? How many straws do you expect to use per week?
This might take some trial and error, but reeds can be a very beautiful addition to your home so don't be afraid to overshoot! You might also consider having multiple pots— one for the kitchen and one for the TV room?
While most reeds do well in swampy areas, it is a good idea to get a pot with drainage holes. This might mean more watering, but when growing in the ground the water filters through the soil, even if it never dries. You don't want your reeds to sit in the same water for months on end.
Step 3: Pot Your Reeds
These are tips for planting the Horsetail reed and likely apply for other species as well, but it is a good idea to check with a specialist or do some research before dealing with a new plant.
Horsetail doesn't need fertilizer, but rather prefers soil with a lot of un-decomposed, organic matter in it. Some dead leaves or wood chips would do nicely. This helps keep moisture locked in the soil and mimics the swampy muck it naturally grows in.
Put a couple inches of gravel at the bottom, covered in screen to help drainage, and then fill the pot halfway with your potting media. Place the reeds in the pot and cover with more potting media, patting it down.
Horsetail prefers partial/indirect sunlight and soil should be kept moist. The beautiful dark green color of the reeds is maintained by keeping it out of direct sunlight.
Step 4: Puncture the Nodes
Most reeds have thin membranes periodically spaced along their otherwise hollow shafts. These "nodes" are also present in bamboo, as shown in the picture. In order to use the reeds as a straw, we need to puncture the nodes. A bamboo or metal skewer works perfectly for this, and should be kept at hand (maybe "planted" in with the reeds) to get that straw in your drink ASAP!
Step 5: Spread the Word!
Plastic straws are extremely wasteful and often go unnoticed behind plastic bottles, fuel efficiency, and other buzz words of the sustainability movement. The plastic they use is not recyclable, and their small size makes them very dangerous to marine life.
The oldest known straw usage dates back 5000 years, but it is only in the past 50 that plastic has taken over the market. It is time to draw attention to this unnecessary evil, and what better place to start the revolution than in your own home.
Give this natural alternative a try and tell all your straw-loving friends to try it too!