Remember When: Biodegradable straws caused less litter and more humor

Tom Mooney - Remember When
Tom Mooney Remember When -

You sippers of soda, iced tea and water had better unite before it’s too late. Your drinking straws are endangered.

That’s right! A public official out in California wants to take those little plastic devices away from you and (since there’s no other way to do it) make you start drinking straight out of the glass.

News sources recently reported that state Assemblyman Ian Calderon has introduced a bill that would ban the automatic placement of the straws on a diner’s table in a sit-down restaurant in his state. You’d have to ask the server for a straw if you want it.

Actually, that could be good if the idea spreads, because the intention is to remove some plastic from society’s waste stream. If enacted, though, the law would not impact fast-food joints, which is probably where most of the straws are used.

Folks of the past had their own problems, of course, but dealing with a tsunami of plastic straws was not one of them. Maybe there’s a lesson in there for us.

Back around the 1940s through the 1960s, if you ordered a drink in an eatery, you were handed a paper packet containing two very slender straws, made of lightly waxed paper. True, that product was made from trees, but at least the paper was bio-degradable. It didn’t threaten to hang around our environment until the end of time, taking up landfill space and polluting waterways.

In fact, the drinking straws of that era were so biodegradable that they would start degrading right in your drink if you didn’t finish it quickly enough. Get caught up talking with your buddies across the table in the neighborhood diner and – poof – before you knew it, your straws had collapsed into streamers of paper, hanging listlessly over the sides of your glass of cherry Coke or whatever.

Yet, no one ever groused about this apparent failure of modern food technology. The insubstantial straw was part of a really fun dining culture.

For one thing, the straws came two to a packet. A couple of high school kids would take one straw apiece, sharing an ice cream soda and declaring to passers-by that they were in love. I never personally witnessed this rite, although I did see it on plenty of magazine covers, and they certainly wouldn’t lie.

But there was another big advantage to the old-time paper straws. They produced guided missiles.

You’d tear the end off the paper packet, put the tip of the two straws in your mouth, aim them at somebody about 10 or 12 feet away, with his back turned, and give a good blow. The paper packet would fly through the air and sock the guy in the back of the head. Then, quickly, you’d turn away, resume talking with your buddies, and feign total unawareness of what was going on.

I have literally never seen this done with modern plastic straws and their packaging. Either we have lost our sense of humor as a society or we fear the servers roaming the aisles.

So, don’t be shocked if Mr. Calderon of California gets his way with straws. Our whole dining culture has changed and will continue to do so.

But wouldn’t it be fun to bring back jukeboxes at tableside? How about couples jumping up and dancing in the aisles of the neighborhood restaurant?

Hey, pour me a chocolate cola and give me a pack of paper straws. I’m ready to drink to that.

Tom Mooney Remember When Mooney Remember When

Tom Mooney

Remember When

Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]

Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]