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The UK government is quoting Eunomia’s estimates that the British fast food industry is throwing away 8.5 billion plastic straws each year. McDonalds, however, calculate that the figure is closer to 4.4 billion. Neither sum includes those discarded by pubs, restaurants or in the home. Which ever number it is, this represents a significant amount of wasted plastic.These items do not need to be adding to the contaminants  which are polluting our oceans, they can all be reclaimed.

Rather than banning their use, which is a simple short term solution, we all need to be considering more effective recycling processes. These need greater awareness and action by individuals, industry and government. Each of these groups must accept that new approaches are needed and improved systems should be developed. 

This is doubly important because paper straws which will replace plastic cannot be recycled as the fibres are too weak to be turned into usable paper. The material is also often contaminated with oils that make it difficult to convert into useful pulp. Banning plastic will simply increase the amount paper thrown into landfill rather than seeing the plastic as a resource to be utilised.


The first known straw comes from 3000 BC Samaria where it was a status object made from a golden tube and inlaid with precious stones. 

By the 1800’s rye grass was a cheap and popular drinking straw but it tainted the drink with a grassy flavour. So in 1888, Marvin Chester Stone from Ohio patented the modern waxed paper drinking straw after wrapping paper around a pencil to produce a taste free tube.

In the 1930‘s Joseph Friedman watched his daughter struggling to drink from a straight straw and came up with the idea of a bendy version. He patented his ‘Drinking Tube’ in 1937 but was unable to interest a number of drinking straw companies. Eventually, with family finance, he developed his own manufacturing machine and started production in1939 producing flexible straws for use in hospitals.    


The plastic straw is made by a process called extrusion in which softened plastic is pushed through a die to create a small tube. This is pulled through a long bath of cool water where it hardens to form a rigid tube. The tube is cut into short lengths before being fed into a machine which rolls the straws between formers to create the bendy section.


Each translucent straw gives a glimpse of the background and catches the light in particular ways.The shadows blur at the ends as they spread across the surface. The secondary, lighter shadows, often have brighter sections where they join the main area.Their colour and translucency has to be carefully observed to give the desired effect.

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