If you’ve been paying attention to environmental news, you may have heard the words “straw ban” once or twice. Around the world, environmental advocates are pushing for people and companies to eliminate the use of the single-use plastic straw since these thin pieces of plastic have been wreaking havoc on the environment for decades.
While it is clear that single-use plastic straws are no good, it isn’t obvious just yet which alternative is best, and most environmentally friendly. Here, we’re going to take a look at the various plastic straw alternatives, discuss their merits, and give you a few pieces of advice for choosing the most eco-friendly option.
The Problem with Straws
Like plastic bags and water bottles, single-use plastic straws are made from petroleum-based plastics that cannot naturally decompose. Because of this, plastic items that end up in landfills can spend centuries sitting and slowly breaking down into smaller pieces, leaching toxic chemicals and microplastics into the surrounding soil and groundwater. Worse yet, many plastic items find themselves living out the last of their days in our rivers, lakes, and oceans, disrupting natural wildlife and polluting vital ecosystems.
In rivers, lakes, and oceans, marine creatures come across plastic debris, mistaking it for food and consuming it, or accidentally becoming entangled in the waste. Marine birds, fish, sea turtles, marine mammals, coral reefs, and practically every other living organism in the ocean is negatively affected by the millions of pounds of plastic they have been forcibly exposed to, resulting in the deaths of countless animals and the degradation of vital ecosystems.
While some plastics can technically be reused or recycled, many plastic products never see the inside of a recycling facility, and many more are simply not accepted by most commercial recycling companies. Plastic straws are one of these items, considered too small and lightweight for recycling companies to bother trying to process them. As a result, our oceans and landfills have become overrun with these thin tubes of plastic, destroying the health of countless marine animals as they become lodged within cavities, as turtles and birds mistake them for food, and as microplastics distribute themselves throughout the ocean.
So, if straws are so destructive and devastating to the environment, why not get rid of them entirely?
Straws happen to be an important accessibility tool for people with limited mobility and the elderly since they can allow people to drink more independently and comfortably than they would be able to without the use of a straw. Beyond being an important tool for disabled and elderly folks, straws are also great for people with sensitive teeth and are a fun way to jazz up your favorite drink. Because of this, the best solution to the problem of single-use plastic straw pollution is finding environmentally friendly alternatives, which brings us to the main topic of this blog: biodegradable or reusable straws: which is better?
Biodegradable or Reusable: Which is Better?
The simple solution to the issue of plastic straws is to replace them with more eco-friendly options, but there has been some debate regarding which approach is the most effective. The two most popular alternatives have become biodegradable and reusable straws, each of which have their merits. While biodegradable straws do eliminate the risk of plastic pollution, they don’t necessarily cut back on general waste, and it may still take years for them to break down in a landfill.
What Does Biodegradable Mean?
The term ‘biodegradable’ has become a popular term amongst businesses trying to advertise their products as eco-friendly. Consumers, in general, have a very positive view of the word ‘biodegradable’, and those that care for the environment may be more likely to choose ‘biodegradable’ products over ordinary products in the store. That said, few people really know what biodegradable actually means, which has made pushing truly eco-friendly products more difficult.
If an item is biodegradable, it simply means that it can eventually be broken down by living organisms like bacteria, fungi, and algae. The majority of items are considered biodegradable since they will eventually break down if given enough time. That said, the promise of something being biodegradable doesn’t necessarily mean that it will break down quickly or efficiently, so it could theoretically take decades for an item to be broken down into its most basic parts. Paper straws, for example, are largely biodegradable, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be sitting in landfills for decades after use.
Because of this, many environmental advocates agree that the best replacement for single-use plastic straws is a reusable straw rather than biodegradable alternatives. Reusable straws can be reused an almost infinite number of times, and though they require more energy to produce, a single reusable straw can replace thousands over a lifetime.
Best Reusable Straw Options
If you are determined to cut single-use straws out of your life once and for all, but still want the joy of enjoying your favorite beverage through a straw, you might be wondering what the best reusable straw option is. While it really comes down to personal preference, taste, and style, we do have some thoughts on the pros and cons of various straw alternatives and are happy to share what we know to help you make a decision for yourself.
Stainless Steel Straws
Stainless steel is naturally anti-microbial, easy to clean, and super long-lasting, making it a favorite material choice for fans of reusable straws. Because stainless steel is virtually unbreakable, this option may be best for families with small children, or for anyone who just likes to toss their dishes in the dishwasher and go.
Stainless steel straws won’t oxidize, crack, snap, or become misshapen over time, and can withstand hundreds of washes without altering the finish or quality of the item. Stainless steel straws also retain cold and are a delightful addition to an ice-cold drink on a sweltering day. For durability and longevity, stainless steel straws are our top reusable straw pick.
Like stainless steel straws, glass won’t easily collect germs and bacteria, and won’t be affected by wash after wash. Unlike stainless steel, glass is prone to shattering, so glass straws might not be best in homes with small children or for anyone wanting to use theirs for a wild, booze-filled evening. Classy, elegant, and a real treat to drink from, glass straws are a good option if you can commit to being careful.
Bamboo is naturally water and moisture resistant, making it an ideal natural material for use in drinks. Bamboo can withstand extended exposure to wet environments without warping, though it isn’t as indestructible as stainless steel or glass. That said, bamboo straws add a super-fun touch of nature and kitsch to any drink, and are safe for the whole family to use.
While bamboo straws might not last forever the way stainless steel, glass, or silicone will, these reusable straws are also biodegradable, so you won’t need to feel too guilty when you toss yours in the trash. Remember, bamboo straws should be washed by hand only, so avoid these if you only use the dishwasher.
Perhaps the most similar to single-use plastic straws, silicone straws are an excellent option for families, drinks on the go, picnics, and hectic lifestyles. Slightly bendy, easy to cut to size, and easy to clean, silicone straws can survive years of use without shedding microplastics and are made without harsh chemicals and toxic additives, making them food-safe and safe to wash in the dishwasher. Silicone straws are the perfect option for you if you enjoy a softer straw, miss the sensation of a regular plastic-straw, or want a super-durable, child-appropriate reusable alternative.
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