Biodegradable vs. Compostable Straws: What’s the Difference?

Straws are ubiquitous in restaurants and bars. Straws are also just as likely to be found in landfills. With the rising popularity of eco-friendly products, the demand for biodegradable straws will increase. 

But what does it mean for something to be “biodegradable”? And are compostable straws the same thing? This article will explain everything you need to make an informed decision about biodegradable vs. compostable straws.

What Does “Compostable” Mean?

Compostable products are made from materials that can be broken down by microorganisms in a compost environment. The resulting product is humus, a soil additive rich in nutrients and beneficial microbes. 

(What is “Humus?” Accordingly to Wikipedia, humus is the dark organic matter in soil that is formed by the decomposition of plant and animal matter. It is a kind of soil organic matter. It is rich in nutrients and retains moisture in the soil. Humus is the Latin word for “earth” or “ground)

The most common compostable products contain plant fibers, such as paper and cellulose. Microorganisms, sunlight, and heat in a compost environment break down these materials. Once broken down, they return to their base elements, consisting of carbon and hydrogen atoms.

What Does “Biodegradable” Mean?

Biodegradable products are made from renewable resources. Bioproducts are designed to break down into smaller pieces over time.

When it comes to the materials you use, the most important thing is to look at the impact they have on our planet’s ecosystems.

Biodegradable plastics leach chemicals, contaminating soil and marine environments. They do not provide nutrients to the soil when they break down and often contain toxic additives that can be released into the environment when exposed to heat or sunlight.

Biodegradable vs. Compostable Straws

Biodegradable and compostable straws are often used interchangeably, but they degrade differently.

Compostable straws are made from organic material that will decompose when it’s thrown out with other organic waste. When exposed to the elements or put into a compost bin, compostable straws break down into water and carbon dioxide over time.

Biodegradable drinking straws are often made of a bioplastic called PLA, or polylactic acid. Although this plastic is made from renewable resources, it never decomposes like compostable straws. Research shows they never break down, even after one year in the ocean.

Biodegradable straws are not compostable. So when PLA straws get thrown away, these straws behave the same way as any other plastic in a landfill.

What Is a PLA?

PLA is a type of plastic made from renewable resources such as cornstarch or sugarcane. Its production process makes it more cost-efficient than creating other types of plastic.

It’s not a petrochemical plastic, so there are fewer environmental concerns about producing PLA or using it as a packaging material for food products.

However, PLA straws only degrade under certain conditions. They must be exposed to temperatures higher than 180 °F to break them down. This could also include the anaerobic and anabolic environment requirements for it to break down which requires specialized industrial facilities.

Are PLA Plastics Compostable?

PLA plastics differ from traditional plastics because they are derived from organic plant materials rather than petroleum. Often called biopolymers, they have properties very similar to plastic which allows them to pivot easily into standard plastic manufacturing equipment.

Straws made from PLA can’t be composted like other compostable straws. Instead, they have to be chemically or mechanically recycled. This bioplastic is compostable, but only in an industrial composting plant with high temperatures for weeks.

There aren’t many commercial facilities that accept PLA plastic waste for proper disposal, so it’s hard to find options even if you’re looking for them.

Plastic Straws vs PLA Straws

Traditional plastic straws are made from petrochemicals, which are derived from fossil fuels. They basically can’t be recycled and they don’t biodegrade. These non-biodegradable single-use plastics go into landfills where they take thousands of years to break down into smaller pieces called microplastics.

PLA is compostable in a commercial composting facility that has high temperatures, enough humidity or water, churning, and other intensive processes which is not a viable option for home composting. Most residential waste management systems never reach the temperatures needed to compost PLA. So PLA straws are usually thrown away, where they can take hundreds of years to break down in landfills.

Both the traditional and PLA straws are bad for the environment. Even under ideal conditions, they take a long time to break down. And in the meantime, they pollute our waterways and oceans. By 2050, discarded plastic in the ocean will outnumber fish. Plastic straws are just one piece of that problem.

Better Straw Options?

If you’re looking for a better option than plastic, we recommend trying out our plant-based, sugarcane straws. Their compostable nature means that they are biodegradable and will break down in a reasonable amount of time and environment. This happens because they are made of compostable material that is as close to the plant fiber structure as they can be.

Sugarcane straws provide a biodegradable and eco-friendly alternative to plastic or PLA. If you’re interested in switching things up without sacrificing performance, you should consider our V2 sugarcane straws. Our Version 2 (V2) of Sugarcane Straws do NOT contain any polylactic acid (PLA). When requesting information or quotes, please note which version you desire.

#1 for Biodegradable Straws VS Compostable Straws

Sugarcane straws are 100% compostable and biodegradable. Internal tests have found they degrade by 90% within 360 days under normal environmental conditions.

They do not contain any harmful dyes, heavy metals, or BPA. Sugarcane straws are also free from any excess synthetic processing (like paper bleaching) that can leave residue on teeth and can leach into drinks.

They are ideal for cold and warm drinks and juices or soda. These compostable straws never collapse when wet like paper straws do, making them an excellent choice for use with milkshakes and smoothies too.

Certifications

Our sugarcane straws are certified compostable (including Certified Biodegradable by BPI) safe and non-toxic, PLA-free, and plastic-free by the following entities:

  • Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS)
  • Cedar Grove Composting and Compost Manufacturing Alliance (CMA)
  • DIN e. V., DIN CERTCO
  • Plastics Industry Development Center (PIDC)

Our straws are OK Home Compostable certified by TUV Austria (TA8022206672). Our products can biodegrade on their own in a home compost pile. They’re a completely renewable beverage solution.

Compostable Straws

Plastic-free sugarcane straws are available in four sizes, these restaurant-grade compostable straws ship from the USA. 

Sugarcane straw diameter sizes include:

Shop our selection of eco-friendly, compostable straws today! Not ready to buy an entire box? Sample before you buy!

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the difference between biodegradable vs compostable straws so that you can choose which one is better suited to your needs. Shop our selection of eco-friendly sugarcane straws today!

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