Drinking straws have come under scrutiny over the past few years, with some jurisdictions banning them outright as an unnecessary source of plastic in the waste stream. That's true to a point, but drinking straws are surprisingly versatile and useful item in their own right. There are plenty of ways to reuse and repurpose them, making your life easier while taking them firmly out of the category of "single use" plastics.
1. Keep Frozen Foods Longer
Foods last longer in the freezer and maintain their quality much better when they're vacuum sealed to prevent freezer burn. Buying a vacuum sealer and its expensive bags is one way to do that, of course, but it's not the only way. Instead, use regular zipper-seal freezer bags and insert a straw into one corner. Seal the bag up to the straw, then suck out as much air as you can. Extract the straw and seal the bag in one motion, before air can sneak back in. Alternatively, you can use the same technique in reverse to inflate multiple snack-sized bags when you have a parcel to mail, creating your own DIY air cushion packaging.
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2. Help Cut Flowers Look Their Best
A pretty arrangement of cut flowers is an effective, low-cost way to brighten any room. Flowers with stiff, woody stems work best in vases, but many beautiful flowers have relatively slender and delicate stems. They're still pretty, but they'll tend to bend and break if you're not careful. To straighten and stiffen droopy stems, choose a straw of the appropriate diameter and cut it to length, then slide the flower's stem down through it. This is especially handy in small vases, where delicate flowers don't have sturdier kin to hold them up. Clear or green straws are the best choice, because they'll be less obvious.
3. Travel Storage for Creams, Seasonings and More
Even travel-sized toiletries can take up a lot of space in a carry-on if you have enough of them. Instead of those tiny bottles, consider making single-portion dispensers from straws. Cut them to length, then seal the ends in a heat sealer or simply soften them over a match and pinch with pliers. Fill them with sunscreen, moisturizer, shampoo or other necessities, then seal the other end. This is also a useful technique for salt, pepper and other seasonings when you're camping, or even for packing along a few pins, needles or hairpins. To avoid confusion, label your straws or use different colors for different purposes.
4. Extend a Funnel
When you need to pour things without making a mess, there's no substitute for a funnel. Unfortunately, the wide top that makes them useful also means they sometimes don't fit into tight spaces. If you need to pour fluids into one of those inconvenient locations, like a car's engine compartment, straws can help. Choose a large-diameter straw that's about the size of your funnel's tip, and snip it in two or three spots so the funnel will fit inside. Tape it in place to prevent leaks, and use your now-supersized funnel to pour the fluid. If necessary, you can add a second or third straw for extra reach.
5. Organize Cords and Cables
The newest and greatest gizmos and gadgets are increasingly wireless, but the electronics that shape our lives still require plenty of cords and cables. This can make for quite a rat's nest of cables behind your computer desk or living room home theater setup. That's fine most of the time, when they're out of the way and you don't need to deal with them, but it's confusing and inconvenient when you need to add or remove components from the system. To make things simpler for yourself, use color-coded lengths of drinking straw to identify the cables. Write on the straw with indelible marker, then cut a slit in the other side and slide it over the cable. Tape it in place, in a spot where you can easily locate and read it.
6. Remove Cork From Your Wine
Natural cork is superbly suited to wine storage, keeping most of the outside air out but still allowing a tiny bit of oxygen inside to help the wine mature. Unfortunately the corks sometimes crumble when it's time to actually enjoy the wine, and it's hard to ignore those "floaters" at the surface of your glass. A drinking straw provides an easy and surprisingly effective way to remove them, without actually sticking your fingers into the wine. Just place a straw over the piece of floating cork, and just slightly below the surface of the wine. Seal the top with your finger, to create a vacuum, and lift. The straw will capture the cork and a few drops of wine, and you can drop it into the nearest sink by lifting your finger again from the top of the straw.
7. DIY Travel Cover for Razor
Modern multi-blade razors are infinitely safer to pack along than the old-fashioned individual blades, but you'll still regret it if your fingertips find one while you're digging in your bag for something else. Most brands come with a plastic cover over each set of blades, but it's easy to misplace those once you start using the shaver. It's relatively straightforward to improvise a replacement using a jumbo drinking straw, the kind used for milkshakes or bubble tea. Just cut one down to match the width of your shaver's head, then make a slit down one side. Slide it over the head of your shaver, and you're ready to pack up and go.
8. Add a Pen/Pencil Holder to a Notebook
Even in the age of smartphones, there are plenty of times when scribbling quick notes or sketches onto an old-school paper notebook is the most efficient way to work. The problem usually lies in managing to keep pen and paper together, where you can find both at the same time. One easy fix for this longstanding irritation is to select a drinking straw that's the right diameter to match your favorite pens, and tape or hot-glue it to the cover or spine of your notebook. Slide a pen or pencil into the straw, and you're good to go. Just remember to seal the bottom of the straw first, so it won't simply fall out.
9. Bag Clip for Your Snacks
Putting away an opened bag of your favorite snacks is one of those things, like streaming just one episode at a time of that hot new show, that some people struggle with. It gets easier if you can't rationalize that "they'll just get stale anyway," by securing the opened bag with some sort of clip. One of the simplest and lowest-cost clips you can use is just a length of sturdy straw. Cut it to match the width of your bag, then make a slit down one side. Fold the top of the bag neatly, and then slide the straw over it to seal.
10. Activities and Crafts for Kids
Keeping youngsters happily occupied is a significant life skill, whether you're a parent doing it full-time or a friend/aunt/uncle who has gotten roped into helping out. The good news is that kids are pretty good at taking your lead and running with it, no matter what tools you have at your disposal. Drinking straws are surprisingly versatile in this role. You can tape them around an empty can to make a pencil holder, or glue them to make a picture frame. A straw dunked in soapy water becomes a bubble wand, or you can use them to blow watercolor paints around on paper (and as a bonus, keep little fingers out of the paint). You can even slide a cotton swab into a straw to make a kid-friendly blow-gun dart, and set up a target-shooting competition.