Paper Straws: The Original American Drinking Straws

History shows that the change from plastic to paper straws is not a switch but a return.

As plastic straws continue to be banned in cities around the globe and national and international corporations are voluntarily phasing them out, the world is poised to step away from the plastic straw and seek a viable substitute. In an article examining the history of the drinking straw, National Geographic revealed that, originally, Americans enjoyed their beverages through paper straws, indicating that the world’s step toward a paper alternative is actually a full-circle movement.

Drinking Straws: A History

While the first straws in history were comprised of precious metals and used by ancient Sumerians more than 5,000 years ago (to access the beverage beneath a layer of floating fermentation debris in their beer jars), the first patent for a drinking straw was made in 1888 by an American paper cigarette holder manufacturer named Marvin Stone. Reportedly inspired by his inability to successfully sip a mint julep through a hollow blade of rye grass, Stone formed his prototype for a drinking straw by winding strips of paper around a pencil and gluing them. By 1890 these paper straws were being mass produced by Stone’s factory, Stone Industrial (which is now a part of Precision Products Group). Bendable paper straws were invented in the 1930s and became widely used in hospitals where patients could drink while reclining. It wasn’t long before paper straws—bendable and straight alike—became popular across the nation.

Enter the Plastic Straw

According to National Geographic, post-WWII America was primed for an influx of plastic products. Invented in America in 1870 by John Wesley Hyatt and heavily used during the second world war, plastic was cheap and durable and the post-war American market was ready for an array of inexpensive products. Plastic straws were among the many products affordably produced, and as demand escalated by the 1960s, infrastructure was arranged for the straws to be mass manufactured. The Maryland Cup Corporation became America’s largest plastic straw producer until it was bought by the Fort Howard Corporation in the early 1980s, and for a time it seemed there was no looking back. Small, pervasive and cheap-to-produce, plastic straws met the demands of on-the-go consumers world-wide and became part of the 322 million tons of plastic produced in 2015. Here is where the road has brought us: however ubiquitous and seemingly harmless, plastic straws comprise a sizeable percentage of environmentally harmful single-use plastic products. About 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches, and in America alone half a billion plastic straws are used and discarded on a daily basis.

The Last Straw

Now endeavoring to cope with a staggering plastic pollution problem even as the demand for a durable on-the-go product remains, the world—inspired by environmentally-conscious consumers and corporations and, increasingly, by legislation—is doing an about-face. Paper straws are re-entering the picture. Fortunately, Green Planet Straws is poised and ready to pick up where plastic straws are leaving off, offering a durable, affordable, environmentally-friendly alternative.

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