So you’re shopping for paper straws, and you think “why didn’t anyone think of inventing this before”? Well they did, as a matter of fact. The paper straws are nothing new; they have a long history, are they are making their well-deserved comeback. Straws came in all sizes and materials, serving both nobility and humble folk. So sit back, grab a drink and let OkStraw take you on a brief journey through the amazing history of the paper straw and its siblings.
Straws Fit for Kings
You may think drinking straws are a more recent invention, but their history goes back much farther. Ancient Sumerians used straws for drinking their beer, and the royals even used straws befitting their status. Archaeologists discovered a 5,000 year-old jeweled gold straw in a Sumerian tomb, a far cry from the humble paper straw. While Sumerian weren’t paper straw producers, they created the idea that led to its invention.
Not all straws were meant for Mesopotamian kings, however. For hundreds of years, South Americans used metal straws called bombillas for drinking mate (pronounced Mah-tay). Mate is a tea that requires a filter on a straw to separate the brewed leaves from the drink. Wealthy people used silver bombillas, while more modest people used hollowed out canes for straws. South American societies weren’t paper straw producers, but they had the innovative idea of using biodegradable materials.
Enter the Paper Straw
Spanning from Mesopotamia to South America, the drinking straw has an international history. The paper straw’s story, however, is distinctly American. During the 1800s, people used rye grass straws, but this straw had its share of problems. Rye straws became mushy easily, and it had a habit of making drinks grassy tasting. American inventor Marvin C. Stone noticed this taste problem while drinking his mint julep through a rye straw on a hot day. Unsatisfied, Stone set out to make a better drinking straw.
Marvin C. Stone wound strips paper around a pencil to make a tube, removed the pencil, and glued the strips together. The result was the world’s first paper straw. Stone later applied a wax coating to his paper straws, so they would hold together in case the glue dissolved. Stone patented his paper straw in 1888, and with it, he became the first paper straw producer.
The Burdensome Plastic Straw
Mr. Stone’s wax-coated paper straws were soon a hit in America, and became a household and restaurant staple. Soon after World War II ended, however, paper straws faced a new challenger. With more companies turning to fossil fuels, plastic straws quickly caught on. Cheaper for companies to mass produce, plastic straws eventually replaced paper straws by the 1960s. Soon after, the number of paper straw producers dwindled. While cheaper to make than paper straws, plastic straws caused a slew of serious new problems.
While plastic straws are supposed be reusable, most people throw them away after only using them one. Plastic straws easily wind up in rivers and oceans, where marine animals get injured or killed after mistakenly eating them. Switching from paper straws to plastic straws was cheaper, but it brought a devastating cost to marine animals.
Paper Straws from the Past, for the Future
Fast forward to today, and the tide is finally turning against harmful single-use plastic straws. More people are outraged by the harm plastic straws cause, and more cities, towns, states are banning them. Once the king of straws, the paper straw is finally making its triumphant comeback, and it’s stronger and better than ever. What held back Marvin C. Stone’s paper straws were unfortunately technological shortcomings. The glues at the time couldn’t stand up to drinks, and his machines could only make thin straws.
Thanks to new innovations, however, paper straw producers like OkStraw can make paper straws with no wax, and in different sizes and shapes. Once only possible with plastic, you can now buy slushie paper spoon straws, pointed boba tea paper straws, and even bendy paper straws. OkStraw combines organic, compostable ingredients with cutting edge technology that would make Mr. Stone proud.
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