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5 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Using Plastic Straws

Anne is a Washington native, kayaker, hiker, and nature lover. She likes to write about ways to lessen our carbon footprint.

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Plastic Straws Suck for the Environment

It's no secret that plastic straws negatively impact the environment. Straws and other single-use plastics have a large carbon footprint, are bad for wildlife and exist mostly for convenience. Social campaigns about the issues surrounding plastic products have recently increased, resulting in public demands for change. Many large cities and countries around the world such as the UK, Australia, Seattle and New York have been banning single-use plastic products like straws.

According to an article by USA Today, more than 500 million single-use plastic straws are used and thrown away every day in the U.S. alone. Although many people are excited to make the change towards a more sustainable eco-friendly world, there is still a demand for straws. There are people with disabilities who depend on straws to drink fluids and, of course, people who simply enjoy using them. Thankfully, there are 5 different kinds of eco-friendly alternatives to choose from.

Biodegradable Straws

Biodegradable straws are straws that are made out of plant-based materials that can safely decompose. An example of another plant-based material that goes through this process, would be a banana peel. The peel eventually decomposes and turns back into dirt.

There are two different kinds of Biodegradable straws that you should know about. The first is biodegradable plastic straws or PLA (Poly-Lactic Acid) straws. This particular kind of straw must be sent to a special recycling center to be broken down. They are biodegradable, but they take a much longer time and require much more heat to decompose than average compostable materials. The benefits of these straws are:

  • They will not fall apart in your drink
  • They have a similar look and feel to typical plastic straws
  • They break down if recycled properly
  • They cause less damage to the environment

The cons are:

  • They require a special process to be broken down
  • Without going through the proper recycling process they take a very long time to break down
  • You have to seek out the proper method of recycling yourself

The second type of biodegradable straws is considered to be much more eco-friendly. These are not plastic straws at all. They are made out of materials such as wheat, hay, paper, cardboard or grass. The benefits to these straws are:

  • Most are compostable and break down quickly
  • They cause less damage environmentally
  • If they end up in the ocean or landfills they will disintegrate

The cons are:

  • They have a shorter shelf life even before they are used
  • They can become soggy if left in your drink for too long
  • They cost more to produce

Single-Use Paper Straws

Blue and white single use paper straws.

Blue and white single use paper straws.

Wooden Straws

These straws are also biodegradable, but they are meant for reuse. The most common form of wooden straws you will find are made out of bamboo. The pros are:

  • They are reusable
  • They are washable (Some are even dishwasher safe)
  • They are fairly inexpensive
  • They are completely compostable

The cons are:

  • They do not last forever
  • The quality varies depending on the brand
  • You will want to make sure the bamboo comes from a responsible source
  • You cannot see through them

Bamboo Drinking Straws

25 pack of reusable bamboo drinking straws.

25 pack of reusable bamboo drinking straws.

Glass Straws

Glass straws are also becoming a popular alternative. They come in an assortment of colors and sizes. Some of the benefits include:

  • Most are shatter resistant
  • Most are heat and cold resistant
  • They have a super long shelf life and can be used for years
  • They are washable some are even dishwasher safe
  • You can see through them

Some of the cons are:

  • You must check to be sure you purchase from a reputable brand (not all straws are the same quality)
  • If they do break they can be dangerous

Simple Glass Straws

Simple clear glass straw in a glass of lemonade.

Simple clear glass straw in a glass of lemonade.

Metal Straws

These kinds of straws are usually made of metals like steel, aluminum, and titanium. They are reusable and have the longest shelf life out of all the current alternatives. Some of the benefits of using these straws are:

  • They can last a lifetime
  • They are easy to clean
  • Because they can be used repeatedly they are more eco-friendly than plastic

Some of the cons are:

  • They are not that great for your teeth
  • They heat up with hot and cold drinks
  • They are not compostable
  • They take a significant amount of energy to create

Metal Straws

Rainbow metallic metal straws.

Rainbow metallic metal straws.

Silicone Straws

Silicone straws are a reusable alternative to plastic straws. Some of the benefits of them are:

  • They are dishwasher safe
  • They last a very long time
  • They can be recycled
  • They are ideal for children because they are soft

The cons are:

  • Silicone takes a long time to break down
  • The process of making silicone creates similar bi-products as plastic
  • If not recycled properly they could be hazardous to wildlife

Colorful Silicone Straws

Set of 10 rainbow reusable silicone straws with cleaning utensils.

Set of 10 rainbow reusable silicone straws with cleaning utensils.

Consider Your Options

Whether you are looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly or you live in a place where plastic straws have been banned, there are plenty of alternatives for you to choose from. If you are looking for a single-use option, paper and hay straws are a good compostable choice. Metal and glass straws are the longest lasting reusable straws. Silicone is an excellent choice if you are looking for a softer dishwasher safe option. Bamboo straws are one of the more eco-friendly alternatives you can choose from. There is something for everyone and the best part is that they totally suck, just not for the environment.