Straws made of plastic are a problem. However, even worse, they are making their way into the oceans, where they are posing a serious threat to the survival of marine life. In fact, according to some scientific estimates, if we continue at our current rate of consumption, by 2050 there will be more straws in the ocean than there will be fish.
Straws float at or near the surface of the water, appearing to be tasty morsels to hungry sea creatures. However, once ingested, they can cause injury, illness, and death in these animals if they are not treated immediately. However, whales and even sharks that have washed up on beaches have been found to have large amounts of plastic – including straws – in their stomachs, making them a particular concern. Plastics in our oceans are a major problem because they never degrade and remain there indefinitely.
Plastic straws, on the other hand, can be recycled technically. Unfortunately, despite the fact that hundreds of millions of straws are used and then thrown away every day, the sad reality is that plastic straws rarely make it all the way through the waste chain to recycling facilities, if at all.
Their small size and thinness present a challenge; in addition, they are frequently soiled with food and beverages.. Soiled plastics are not accepted, so the soiled straws are disposed of in the trash.
Even if they do make it to recycling centers, many recyclers will not accept straws for recycling because of the small size of the straws, which can cause damage to machinery. They have the potential to make their way into machinery and cause issues, which is why recycling centers prohibit them entirely.
Plastic Straws Breaking Down
Plastic straws are not only non-biodegradable, but they also do not last indefinitely. Plastic straws are classified as a number 5 plastic, which means that they can be recycled but will not decompose on their own in the environment.
As a result of their small size, these straws have a proclivity to puncture trash bags and make their way onto sidewalks and gutters, where they eventually end up in landfills and bodies of water.
They will eventually break down into smaller pieces, which are referred to as microplastics.
Microplastics are a problem because they persist in the environment for an indefinite period of time. No matter where they are found, whether it is in the ocean, rivers, lakes, streams, or on land, they are always there. So microplastics can enter the food chain through the consumption of fish and wildlife, which can be harmful to them. Microplastics can also make their way back into the food chain through the consumption of animals that have consumed microplastics.
In essence, it is a vicious cycle that will never be broken, and the damage will never be repaired.
Other Options to Plastic Straws
A difficult task, finding long-term solutions to the straw problem, has been set before researchers.
Straws are used by hundreds of millions of people every day. Their applications include coffee shops, fast food restaurants, theme parks, bars, and hospitals among other places. A notable feature of hospitals is that there are many people who require straws in order to drink liquids, so there must be a viable option for groups of people who require them while also providing an option for people who prefer to use straws in their beverages.
Despite the fact that paper straws are slowly becoming more common, there is nothing worse than trying to drink from a favorite beverage through a paper straw that is rapidly deteriorating. So, if you like to take your soda slowly, you will notice that it is starting to crumble halfway through the bottle.
Paper straws, on the other hand, have not made any friends in the bar scene. Plastic straws are no longer permitted in Las Vegas, and bar patrons despise the paper alternatives because they break down so quickly and because the drinks do not taste the same when served with paper straws.
While paper straws do help to alleviate the problem of microplastics, the process of manufacturing them consumes a lot of energy, making them a less-than-sustainably produced alternative. They are, on the other hand, preferable to plastic straws.
Compostable Plastic Straws
Plastic straws that are designed to decompose provide a more environmentally friendly alternative. They will completely decompose in landfills within six months if left to their own devices.
In addition to compostable straws, there are several types of compostable straws available, all of which contain some form of plant material at their core. PLA (polylactic acid plastic) is a biodegradable polymer made from corn starch that can be recycled. There are also compostable straws made from sugar cane and bamboo, amongst other materials.
The advantage of compostable straws is that they decompose in a relatively short period of time and do not release harmful microplastics into the environment as they do with conventional straws. They are also much more durable than paper straws, making them far more dependable.
The disadvantage of compostable straws is that they take months to decompose completely, meaning they continue to pose a threat to marine life until they are completely decomposed.
While it is unquestionably the most environmentally friendly option to eliminate straws entirely, there is another option that may be a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic, paper, and compostable straws: reusable straws.
Because people are attempting to find new ways to consume their beverages, there is an increasing demand for reusable straws on the market. Reusable straws are appearing in a variety of retail outlets, from Walmart to Macy’s and everywhere in the middle. The majority of them are made of washable silicone, but some are also made of stainless steel. Many of these reusable straws are even packaged with their own miniature bottle brushes, which can be used to keep them clean and sanitary between uses in addition to the straws themselves.
The advantage, of course, is that these silicone and stainless steel straws can be reused over and over again in both hot and cold beverages without losing their effectiveness. (Of course, you’ll want to exercise caution when serving extremely hot beverages in stainless steel.)
In addition, you must remember to bring these straws with you, which is a disadvantage. (It’s difficult enough for some people to remember to bring their own shopping bags!) They are small enough for women to carry around in their purses, but men will struggle to find alternatives to packing them in gym bags or briefcases or simply leaving them in the car while traveling. (Silicone straws, on the other hand, are extremely flexible and can be tucked into a pocket.)
A Combination Of Options
As a result, it appears that the best practice is a combination of options. Restaurants are no longer required to provide straws unless specifically requested. Paper or compostable straws can be provided wherever number 5 plastic straws are currently in use, and reusable straws can be used to fill in the gaps where this is not possible.
Although most recycling centers do not accept plastic straws, it may be possible to recycle them by placing the straws inside larger number 5 plastic containers so that they do not fall out during the recycling process. This may or may not be successful. In either case, you will not be aware of the situation because the decision to recycle them will be made at the recycling facility itself. However, even if they do not recycle them, they will be kept contained in order to prevent them from causing problems for marine life.
An Unfortunate Legacy
Plastic straws have been around for decades, which explains why we have such a big problem with them right now. In this day and age, with so many alternatives available, there is no reason why we should continue to use the harmful number 5 plastic straws.
The unfortunate reality is that plastic straws are inexpensive and widely available throughout the world, so even if the United States discontinues their use, the damage will continue until the rest of the world takes notice of the situation.
Every little bit helps, though, and the fewer straws that are used, the better it will be for the environment in the long run, at least until they are eventually outlawed throughout the world.