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Are Paper Straws Really Better for the Environment?

Rising environmental concern across the globe is bringing to light the harmful effects of plastic on earth. Many restaurants and companies in the United States are switching from plastic straws to paper straws. 
sea turtle eating a plastic bag

Rising environmental concern across the globe is bringing to light the harmful effects of plastic on earth. Many restaurants and companies in the United States are switching from plastic straws to paper straws. 

Five hundred million straws get disposed of every day in the United States alone. Additionally, 8.5 billion plastic straws are thrown away each year in the U.K. A 2017 study estimated that 8.3 billion single-use plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches.

How can we help this? Are paper straws the answer? Are they better for the environment? Is there a better solution? (Yes! Sugarcane straws.) Unfortunately, these questions do not have black-and-white answers. Plastic straws are harmful to the environment and paper straws have their downfalls as well. 

sea turtle eating a plastic bag

Harmful Effects of Plastic Straws

It is no secret that plastic straws contribute to plastic pollution. The increase in plastic production has caused a rise in plastic pollution. When they are not disposed of properly, plastic straws get carried by the wind into bodies of water. These bodies of water will eventually lead to our oceans. 

Once a plastic straw reaches the ocean, it becomes harmful to marine life. For example, a sea turtle can mistake the straw for food, causing him to choke or even kill him. Plastic straws also contribute to “garbage patches” in the oceans. These garbage patches get formed by circular ocean currents called gyres that push together plastic waste and debris.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest. It is twice the size of Texas. Most of the plastic waste in this garbage patch aggregates on the ocean floor, where sediments in the deep-sea act as a sink for the microplastics. 

Plastic straws can take up to 200 years to decompose. While decomposing, they release harmful chemicals called bisphenol-A (BPA) into the atmosphere. When they have decomposed into microplastics, they harm marine animals by ingestion. Seventy-one percent of seabirds ingest plastic into their stomachs, as well as 30 percent of sea turtles.

Many recycling programs do not accept plastic straws. This means that once they enter, they will always remain a piece of plastic in our environment. 

With so many adverse effects of plastic straws, many people have switched to paper straws. 

Harmful Effects of Paper Straws

Up to this point, paper straws look like the obvious choice for the eco-friendly alternatives available. However, paper straws have some damaging effects.

Many people believe paper products take fewer resources to manufacture than plastic straws. Made with paper from trees, a renewable resource, means they are less resource-intensive, right? Not exactly.

More greenhouse gases get emitted during the production of paper products than their counterparts, plastic. How? Fossil fuels power the equipment and machinery used to produce paper and plastic straws. Because paper products are more energy-intensive than plastic to make, paper products use more resources than the production of plastic. 

Along with this, paper straws can still be harmful to marine life in the ocean. While they will decompose faster than plastic, this still takes time. Within this time frame, a marine animal could mistake the paper straw for food, causing a blockage and choking the animal. 

Are Paper Straws Biodegradable?

Paper straws decompose, right? In short, yes, they are biodegradable. But what is the definition of biodegradable? For a product to be considered biodegradable, the carbon material of the item must break down by 60% after 180 days. This definition means that 40% of the paper could still be together after 180 days and still be considered biodegradable. 

The main issue with the argument that “paper straws are biodegradable and plastic straws are not, which means paper straws are better than plastic” is disposal. In most cities, people do not compost their waste products or leave them in nature to biodegrade.

Instead of composting or leaving our trash out, we throw our paper straws away in the trash can. The plastic trash bag then goes to a landfill. The plastic bag prohibits the paper straw from decomposing, leaving paper straws in the same place as a plastic straw would be.

Landfills are designed to prevent biodegradation. When paper straws go into the trash, they will probably never decompose. This design means your paper straw goes to the piles of garbage on the earth.

Are Paper Straws Recyclable?

“Well, I throw my paper straws in the recycle bin, which means mine do not end up in a landfill.” Great. But do you know what happens to that paper straw when it is in your drink? It soaks up the liquid from your drink. Maybe you drank a smoothie, leaving food particles on the paper straw that is now in the recycle bin.

Most recycling facilities do not accept food-contaminated paper straws. Meaning most of your paper straws that are thrown in the recycle bin never actually get recycled.  

What Should I Do About Paper Straws?

So should I use paper straws or not?

This question is up to you. With pros and cons to both paper and plastic, do what you think is going to be best for the environment. Just because some restaurants and companies have switched to paper straws does not mean that this is the answer to our plastic pollution problem.

Think about it; when you receive a paper straw at a restaurant, how is it wrapped? Right. It is wrapped in a plastic wrapper. So is using paper straws with plastic wrappers use less plastic than plastic straws in a paper wrapper?

Studies do show that plastic straws are more harmful to the environment, but paper straws are not the best answer. The best way to reduce straw pollution is to refuse a straw altogether. Many restaurants give out straws automatically but just request no straw before they bring your drink.

A Better Alternate: 100% Biodegradable Sugarcane Straws

Unlike plastic straws that take hundreds of years to decompose and unlike paper straws that are utterly worthless when water touches them, our sugarcane straws stay durable and is 100% biodegradable. Other “eco-friendly” straws, these sugarcane straws are backed by organizations like the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) and OK Home Compost by TÜV, so you can trust their claims. 

If more and more companies switched to sugarcane straws, the number of plastic straws would decrease and end up less in sea turtles and other sea life. Choosing sugarcane straws over plastic or paper straws will leave a smaller footprint because they will biodegrade back into the soil.

sugar cane straws in glass jars

Wildlife Benefits

Sugarcane straws are safer for marine life. A study from 5 Gyres tells us that a sugarcane straw will break down after six months. This faster decomposition makes them more marine life-friendly.

We offer a wide variety to give restaurants and other wholesale buyers so they can keep providing their patrons what they are used to, but now just overall better.

Standard Sugarcane Straws
✔ Best for cold liquids, water, sodas
✔ 6mm (0.23 in) x 210mm (8.25 in)
✔ 4,500 or 8,000 per carton
✔ Unwrapped or Wrapped
✔ 100% Biodegradable certified biodegradable

Large Sugarcane Straws
✔ Best for smoothies, shakes, milkshakes, in addition to liquids, sodas
✔ 3,500 Straws per carton
✔ 8mm (0.31 inches) x 210mm (8 ¼ inches)
✔ Individually Paper Wrapped
✔ 100% Biodegradable certified biodegradable

Boba Sugarcane Straws
✔ Best for Boba, Chunky Smoothies, Puddings
✔ Individually Paper Wrapped
✔ 2,250 per Box
✔ Very Large Diameter: 12mm (0.47 inches) x 210mm (8 ¼ inches)
✔ 100% Biodegradable certified biodegradable

Cocktail Bar Straw Sugarcane Straws
✔ Best for cold liquids, water, sodas
✔ 10,000 per carton
✔ Unwrapped, Flat Cut
✔ 5mm (0.16 in) x 152mm (6 in)
✔ 100% Biodegradable certified biodegradable

NEW! Coffee Ground Straws
✔ Make your café stand out with straws made from
✔ 6,000 per carton
✔ Unwrapped, Flat Cut
✔ Large Diameter: 8mm (0.31 in) x 210mm (8 ¼ in)
✔ 100% Biodegradable certified biodegradable

Paper straws, sugarcane straws, or no straws. Make your decision on what you believe will be best for our environment!


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