We’ve all seen images of poor sea turtles with plastic straws stuck in their noses. Even if a plastic straw doesn’t end up in the airways of marine animals, exposure to sunlight, salt water, and extreme temperatures can break plastic straws into microplastics. Microplastic pollution can end up in the marine life that we eat, meaning that little plastic straw you threw away can end up back in your body via your favorite sushi restaurant.
Beyond plastic pollution, plastic production is a high-waste process with a huge carbon footprint and environmental impact. Single-use plastics fill landfills, poison our rivers, and oceans, and kill all types of animals every day.
In the past few years, there’s been a lot of news about plastic straw bans. Cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, and more have banned plastic straws, while entire states like California have put regulations on restaurants offering plastic straws.
If you’re an environmentally minded person, a business impacted by the plastic straw ban, or if you’re looking for an eco-friendly alternative, you might be thinking of switching from plastic straws to paper straws. After all, the issue with single-use plastic straws is plastic, right? Not necessarily.
There are environmental, safety, and experience concerns with your local coffee shop’s new paper straw offerings. Let’s break it down.
Paper Straws: a Not-So Environmentally Friendly Alternative
If you’re looking to switch from plastic straws to paper straws, it’s most likely out of concern for the atmosphere. Single-use plastic straws are a sustainability nightmare. However, paper straws harm the environment as well.
One of the key tenets of sustainability is re-use. Paper straws are single-use, disposable items. You cannot use the same paper straw over and over.
If you have any experience with paper straws, you know you can’t even use a paper straw for more than ten minutes in a single drink without it getting soggy and useless.
Not Really Recyclable or Biodegradable
While throwing out paper is not as terrible as throwing out plastic, people are under the assumption that paper straws can be recycled or composted. This is not the case.
While most paper products can be recycled, most recycling facilities in the United States do not allow food-contaminated materials. Because your paper straw is bound to soak up some of your drink, recycling programs will throw it in the trash instead of recycling it.
Not a big deal because paper straws will biodegrade instead, right? Again, not necessarily. Most restaurants do not have compost bins to place food scraps and biodegradable items into, so your paper straw will likely end up in the trash. Landfills are designed to prevent decomposition, so your straw will not be able to compost and instead sit in the trash heap for years.
Fossil Fuels Still Needed
Paper straws come from trees. These trees need to be cut down, shipped to a factory, pulped, and then made into straw. Then, the straws needed to be loaded up and shipped. All of these processes use fossil fuels.
Even though paper straws might have a smaller footprint than plastic straws, they still have an enormous carbon footprint, especially for an item that will be thrown away after only 10 minutes of use.
Paper Production is Not Eco-Friendly
The paper industry is not going to win any sustainability awards any time soon. It contributes to air pollution, water pollution, high volumes of paper waste, deforestation of the planet, and high greenhouse gas emissions. Paper production uses more water per product than any other industry. It’s the fifth-largest consumer of energy in the world. Overall, paper straws cause more pollution than straws made from sugarcane.
Some paper straws claim to be made of 100% recycled paper, however, you can never know if the claims are true or if it’s a case of greenwashing. Also, paper can only be recycled once or twice before it degrades too much to be useful, so it’s still not enough to make them environmentally friendly.
Paper Straws Can Be Unsafe
Paper straws aren’t just bad for the environment, they’re bad for you.
Paper straws have been found to contain toxic “forever chemicals” in their water-resistant coating. The researchers found that these chemicals can leach into your drink at a variety of temperatures, making each sip high risk. The chemicals found have been linked to different cancers, thyroid disease, and restricted immune responses.
Beyond the toxic chemicals, paper straws are also a cause of concern for parents of young children and people with disabilities. We’ve all used a paper straw that breaks down and leaves little bits of soggy paper floating in your drink. While it’s just an annoying and unappealing feature for most of us, it can be a choking hazard for children and people with disabilities.
The Paper Straw Experience
If you’ve switched to paper straws, you already know what an unpleasant experience it can be. The taste, mouthfeel, sogginess, and tendency to break down make sipping your drink a chore.
Taste of Paper Straws
When you hear “wet paper”, your first thought is probably not “delicious.” As soon as the first sip of your drink passes through a paper straw, you can taste the wet paper. Plus, the longer the straw sits in your cup, the more your entire drink is infused with the wet paper taste.
Mouth Feel of Paper Straws
The combination of the almost cardboard-like consistency of paper straw with its’ water-resistant, waxy coating makes for a very unpleasant mouthfeel. A plastic straw doesn’t feel so bad, but the odd mouth feel of a paper straw is a no-go. Plus, the longer it soaks in your drink, the worse it gets.
Sogginess of Paper Straws
Paper straws are made of paper, so they will get soggy when sitting in liquid, no matter how much coating they have. Once a paper straw gets soggy, it’s only minutes before it becomes completely useless. The sides start to stick together, making it impossible to sip through. It starts to bend and fold down into your drink. It’s like trying to drink through a wet noodle.
Breaking Down of Paper Straws
After the paper straw starts to perform its gymnastics routine in your cup, bending and folding in every direction, the paper breaks down into smaller pieces. Floating with your ice is little bits of wax-coated paper that you can accidentally ingest. It’s not very appealing and can be a choking hazard.
Sugarcane Straws: The Best Alternate to Paper Straws
Now that you know all of the negative aspects of paper straws, you might be wondering what straws to use instead. Metal straws are a popular eco-friendly alternative. However, for use in hot drinks, they can be downright dangerous.
Plant-based straws like our sugarcane straws are a great alternative to plastic and paper straws. They’re 100% biodegradable, use zero plastic or paper, can be used in hot and cold drinks, are not coated in toxic chemicals, do not break down in drinks, and are reusable.
Unlike 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. 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
- Large Sugarcane Straws – Best for smoothies, shakes, and milkshakes, in addition to liquids, sodas
- Boba Sugarcane Straws – Best for Boba, Chunky Smoothies, Puddings
- Cocktail Bar Straw Sugarcane Straws – Best for cold liquids, water, sodas
- New! Coffee Ground Straws – Make your café stand out with straws made from
Our sugarcane straws transform agricultural waste from sugar production into reusable straws, eliminating garbage from entering landfills and replacing environmentally harmful straws.
It’s difficult to make eco-friendly choices. Lack of availability, access, and price point make it hard for many people to actively choose products that are kind to the environment. Electing to use sugarcane straws over plastic and paper straws is one small step you can take to work towards a better planetary future.