Biodegradable Drinking Straws

Sally Painter
young people drinking from eco-friendly straws

Biodegradable drinking straws are a great way to protect the enamel on your teeth while you protect the environment. Thousands of drinking straws are used each day around the world. Replacing them with biodegradable straws can reduce the amount of plastic in the environment dramatically.

A Brief History of Drinking Straws

Straws made of precious metals, such as gold were used more than 5,000 years ago by beer drinkers to filter out the fermented particles in their drinks. The straws were thin and resembled hot beverage straws more closely than they did modern straws.

Paper Drinking Straws

Natural drinking straws were used until 1888 when Martin Stone patented the spiral winding system for producing paper straws. These paper drinking straws were coated with a layer of paraffin to keep the paper from becoming soggy while in use and were made just wide enough to prevent a lemon seed from becoming lodged inside. Paper straws caught on in popularity and became the forerunner of today's plastic drinking straws.

Why You Should Use a Drinking Straw

While a drinking straw may be something that comes to mind when you consider a fountain drink, or a drink you give a child, these plastic tubes are used by the thousands each day by all ages and all kinds of drinks. Dentists recommend the use of drinking straws, particularly with young children to pull sugary liquids into the mouth without the risk of harm to tooth enamel. Straws are also seen as a more sanitary method of liquid consumption in circumstances where a drinking glass rim may not be perfectly clean.

Types of Biodegradable Drinking Straws

There are a few types of biodegradable drinking straws to consider. Most are a onetime use straw. These straws come in varying sizes. Most can be used for cold drinks while a few will hold up to hot beverages and used as coffee stirrers.

Paper Straws

Paper is the best biodegradable straw on the market. It has been improved over the years, but Martin Stone's 1888 concept has held up over the years.

Pros

  • Paper straws are cheap to make.
  • Most paper straws are food safe, FSC certified and FDA approved.
  • The straws can be easily printed with food safe inks.

Cons

  • Not typically a good choice for hot beverages, paper straws are limited to being used for cold drinks.

Hay Straws

Wheat (hay) is a very popular choice for hay straws, although some other grasses can be used to make straws. The straws are made from the wheat stems. Drinking straws (7 ¾") and cocktail straws (5") are popular sizes.

Pros

  • Straws are 100% natural.
  • These straws are made from natural gluten-free wheat.
  • Hay can be grown as a sustainable crop.
  • 100% biodegradable and chemical free.

Cons

  • Anyone with hay, wheat or grass allergies may not be able to use a hay straw without an allergic reaction.
  • Use for cold drinks only.
  • Some users complain the straws easily break or split.

Bamboo straws

The use of bamboo straws is another alternative for a biodegradable straw. This type of straw is typically reusable and can contribute to reducing the cost of purchasing straws.

Pros

  • Useable for hot and cold drinks.
  • Sustainable natural plant material.
  • Can be made into different lengths and diameters.
  • Reusable and can then be composted.

Cons

  • As a reusable straw, a bamboo straw must be washed after each use. This may not be appealing to some consumers.

Biodegradable Plastic Straws

Biodegradable plastic straws are also known as PLA (polylactic acid) These straws are made from plant starches and oil, typically corn. Since these straws are made from plants, most of them decompose naturally in a commercial compost facility.

Pros

  • Hold up as well as plastic straws.
  • Have the same feel as plastic.
  • Mass production is readily available.
  • Some PLA straws only take two to three months to decompose while others require six months.

Cons

  • You can't toss these straws onto your compost heap. This type of straw is biodegradable in a commercial composting facility.

Where to Purchase Biodegradable Drinking Straws

paper drinking straws

If you are already using biodegradable plates or biodegradable hot beverage cups, chances are the same retailer also carries biodegradable straws. If you've just started using biodegradable plastic or paper products for household or restaurant use, you may want to consider adding biodegradable straws to your purchases.

Aardvark Paper Straws

The same company founded by Martin Stone still produces The Original Paper Straw - Aardvark®. This straw is made in the USA with natural papers and is 100% chemical free. Not only is it compostable and biodegradable, but it is also marine degradable and compostable. The company uses only FDA approved food-grade ink.

Hay Straws

The Hay Straws company manufactures natural wheat derivative straws. The wheat is gluten-free. Two sizes of straws are available, including a tall drinking straw (7 ¾") and a cocktail drinking straw (5"). The company explains its gluten-free rating awarded from the testing by the University of Nebraska Lincoln, Food Allergy and Resource Program. The straws were determined to have a low gluten of 8ppm. The requirement for claiming gluten-free products is a rating under 20 ppm.

Western Plastics

Made in Canada, Western Plastics offers biodegradable resin straws and paper straws. You can choose to recycle the straws as well as send on to the landfill. The resin straw requires 24 months to completely break down. The paper straws are certified and available in stripes and solid colors and come in three sizes.

Green Alternatives to Biodegradable Straws

There are a couple of alternative green straws that you may prefer to use. Aside from the type of material of an alternative straw, these are not onetime use straws or short-term use like bamboo straws.

Glass Straws

Glass straws are offered as an alternative to plastic straws and biodegradable straws. Some people prefer using this type of unconventional straw, but it does require washing after every use. In addition, some users complain that this type of straw is too easy to break. However, the majority of glass straws on the market are made from borosilicate. This non-porous glass is a great weapon against anti-bacteria clinging inside the straw. the borosilicate ensures your glass straw is resistant to breaks and shattering. It is also a superb choice for using with hot or cold beverages.

Stainless Steel Straws

A better choice for an alternative straw might be a stainless steel straw. Again, you'll need to wash after each use. One of the possible drawbacks for this type of straw is the chill factor. Stainless steel absorbs and retains either heat or cold temperatures. If you're drinking a frozen drink, the stainless steel straw may become too cold to sip from or the beverage may freeze inside the straw making it difficult to use. This can be especially true if you purchase a bent straw instead of a straight one. Unlike a paper or PLA straw, a stainless steel straw isn't flexible and could jab you in the mouth or gum. For this reason, some straws come with a silicone tip. Some people complain of an aftertaste from the metal.

Biodegradable Store

The Biodegradable Store offers straws that are PLA and 100% renewable. These renewable and compostable straws are ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) compliant as well as BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) certified compostable. The

World Centric

World Centric offers paper wrapped and unwrapped paper straws and PLA straws. The straws are available in 8" and 10" lengths. The PLA straws will decompose in two to four months in a commercial composting facility.

Finding and Using Biodegradable Drinking Straws

Drinking straws may seem like a small amount of plastic to be throwing away until the number used a day are stack up. Converting to biodegradable drinking straws promotes the use of other biodegradable products and keeps harmful plastics out of landfills and polluting the world's oceans.

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Biodegradable Drinking Straws