Plastic pollution is one of our top environmental concerns—and the humble straw is a major contributor to the mess.
Why Plastic Straws Are Bad for The Environment
Not so plastic-fantastic straws rank in the top ten most common trash items found floating in the sea—or washed up on the beach—by cleanup organizations. They’ve even been found in the stomachs of whales and lodged in turtle noses.
Other felons include plastic bags, plastic bottles, and plastic stirrers. They’re an eyesore and a danger to wildlife.
Experts say straws are so commonly found polluting the environment because they’re small and light. They easily blow out of drinks and bins, and people don’t take much notice of one dropped straw. It doesn’t look like it will do much damage.
However, they are the clichéd straw that broke the camel’s back—or rather the straw that killed the turtle.
Widespread plastic pollution is such a problem that large corporations are cleaning up their act in a bid to go green and impress consumers.
Starbucks, for example, that prime vendor of plastic straws, has announced they are discontinuing them and aim to phase out plastic straws by 2020.
What Is A Biodegradable Straw?
Traditional plastic straws are made from petroleum-based plastic, and they take hundreds of years to decompose as they float around the environment. They’re also really difficult to recycle, and some of them can’t be recycled at all.
Biodegradable straws are more environmentally friendly and cause less trash pollution because they break down much faster. Compostable straws go a step further than biodegradable ones and decompose into compost for your garden.
What Kinds of Biodegradable Straws Are There?
The good news is there are plenty of biodegradable straws, so there’s no need for us to go on polluting the environment with thousands of plastics ones.
PLA stands for polylactic acid. It’s a plant-based plastic that’s better for the environment because it creates fewer carbon emissions. Bioplastics like PLA create 0.8 tons of carbon during their creation, whereas petroleum plastic creates around 4 tons.
Polylactic acid straws sound harsh, but they’re actually made from renewable, decomposable resources such as sugarcane or cornstarch rather than fossil fuel-based petroleum.
But hold up. While PLA straws decompose at a faster rate, they still take years to break down, and during that time, they pollute our landfills and oceans.
Another issue with bioplastic is that many recycling facilities just don’t have the capability to recycle them yet, so your efforts to go green just end up in the landfill after all.
Although PLA is a better alternative to plastic, there are other types of straws that make a bigger impact on reducing environmental pollution.
RELATED: Here’s How to Become a Recycling Pro
Paper straws break down within a few days with no trace, and they’re compostable. Paper straws are one of the most environmentally friendly options.
There are a few issues around paper straws, though. Some manufacturers add chemicals to prevent their straws from breaking down while you enjoy a drink, and some add chemicals to stop bleached colors from leaking into the liquid.
They also tend to cost more, but in terms of environmental health and feel-good vibes, they’re worth their weight in gold.
Grain Stalk Straws
Many years ago, before petroleum plastics were invented, anyone who wanted a straw would pick up a hollow grain stalk and use that. It’s where the name “straw” originated.
These days they are sterilized, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go old school with a grain stalk. It’s rustic chic at its finest.
Another natural alternative to plastic is wooden bamboo stalks. They’re also hollow-centered, making them a perfect choice of reusable straw.
A wooden straw is obviously much more environmentally friendly, and it doesn’t go soggy in a drink. If you like a beach vibe with your Friday night cocktail, then bamboo is the way to go.
What Other Kinds of Straws Are out There?
At the opposite end of the scale, we have reusable straws that last forever, but they’re not single-use polluting plastic straws—oh, no. These are classy straws used to sip cocktails and frappé with grace.
Stainless steel straws are more expensive than biodegradable ones, but you only need to buy them once. It’s not a new form of cutlery—stainless steel is used to make knives and forks the world over, and we’re used to wielding them at dinnertime.
Stainless steel straws are easily cleaned in the dishwasher, but some of the premium brands come with a small cleaning pipe to flush out smoothie bits or coffee froth.
And if you think metal straws get hot in tea or coffee, you’d be right. To counteract this problem, inventive folks have come up with a silicone-tipped steel straw just perfect for your frothy cappuccino.
Glass straws are beautiful objects, but despite being made of safety glass, they can get smashed. If you’re the careful type, choosing an iridescent red glass straw can really bling up happy hour.
Soft and bendy silicone straws are a great option for kids and people with disabilities.
You can banish all thoughts of licking a bike tire—silicone is smell- and taste-free these days. Silicone straws suit hot or cold drinks and although they cost a fair bit more, it’s worth it for reusable quality.
Do You Even Need a Straw?
Plastic single-use straws really suck and the PLA types are only one step better, so be honest about it: do you even need a straw? The greenest way is to sip your drink without one.
If you use straws to avoid sugar damage to your teeth, perhaps it’s time to reconsider your sugar intake.
Plain water won’t damage tooth enamel. It’s healthy and so much better for your weight, skin, and purse. If you don’t need a straw, say so and take some pressure off our planet.
Sipping from a biodegradable straw—or investing in a classy reusable one—is a simple tweak that anyone can easily fit into a busy lifestyle.
It may not save the planet in one day, but it’s a strawsome step in the right direction.