Reusable Straws and the Germs Who Love Them

Why we should have delayed the plastic straw ban.

I am not a neat freak. In fact, when it comes to cleaning my home, I am a touch bipolar. There are times when I make cleaning a priority and then there are other times when I willingly step over unfolded laundry for three days straight.

Just last week, I said to my husband, “You know it’s time to sweep the kitchen floor when the bottom of your feet look like an everything bagel.” (He claims it’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever said. I disagree. I’ve said far worse.”)

In other words, I am not a germaphobe so my concern about reusable straws has little to do with a fear of microorganisms and everything to do with my fear of having to add yet another cleaning chore to the chores I already don’t want to do.

Although my cleaning aptitude may be less than stellar, I do have an uncanny ability to see problems before they occur. (I would have excelled in law enforcement but instead became a stand-up comic…which probably disproves my theory.)

Let’s put it this way, if I were a character in the infamous Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man, two minutes into the story, I would have been saying, “Uh…guys…is there any chance "To Serve Man" is a cookbook?” And then I would have laughed and we would have all died anyway.

So, when I first became aware of the war on straws, I had many questions. I wondered how a straw ban would affect disabled people, seniors, hospital patients and anybody who has difficulty sitting up, swallowing, breathing or a combination of the three.

“Banning plastic straws is good for the environment, but what if you need an emergency tracheotomy in an era when nobody carries ballpoint pens,” I joked.

(I also worried about the fate of milkshake lovers and people with sensitive teeth because I like to worry about everything.)

Well, it turns out, disabled people are pissed off…as they should be. In the past few days, there have been numerous articles about the importance of straws to the disabled. What may seem like a frivolous utensil to some is actually a necessity for many.

Anti-straw advocates, think reusable straws are the answer. But, paper, stainless steel and glass straws present a whole new set of problems which can result in chipped teeth, burnt lips and a constant mess.

For a moment, however, let’s put the disability issue aside and focus on germs.

Google “reusable straw germs” and you’ll find articles and videos instructing you how to keep bacteria and mold--yes, I said mold--out of your reusable straws. Apparently, if you don’t clean your reusable straw properly, you’ll be sucking up fungus with your frappuccino.

(This, of course, doesn’t even address putting a dirty straw back in your purse or shirt pocket.)

It’s not the first time a policy aimed at helping the environment helps germs to help themselves to our bodies.

Remember plastic bottles? En masse, we traded in our disposable water bottles for reusable water bottles. Eventually, we were treated to articles citing studies that said that our reusable water bottles contained more germs than a dog bowl or a toilet seat.

How about canvas bags at the grocery store? Well, it didn’t take long before local news shows were telling us the bags were “teeming with bacteria.”

Hand dryers in public restrooms? In our desire to save trees, we forced everybody to use these “bacteria bombs” which suck in fecal bacteria and blow it all over your hands.

Who saw this coming? I did! But whenever I expressed my concerns I was treated like a Nazi climate denier who wanted to kill baby turtles. No, I just didn’t want remnants of poo blown into my face.

The worst part about all of these studies is that we blindly followed the new rules without question and some of us get sick in the process. Yes, we can retrofit machines and get into the habit of tossing our canvas bags into the washer after each trip to the grocery store but what about the poor folks who, let’s say, unknowingly drank from disgusting bottles before the studies were released. They would have been better off drinking out of a dog bowl on the treadmill.

So far, nothing catastrophic has occurred. But germs are tricky little buggers. Many of them live to kill their hosts. Caution, in this case, may not be a bad thing.

The next time we pass legislation or institute bans to protect the environment, let’s take a moment to discuss how these changes will affect humans.

We’re smart people. We can save the planet without destroying ourselves.

In the meantime, don't forget to clean your reusable straw in the bathroom before leaving the restaurant. And be sure to dry it off using one of those bacteria bombs. Then, the next time you go to Starbucks, enjoy your "crappuccino."