Recycling Plastic Straws

One of the most commonly used items that end up in landfills and oceans is something everyone has had some experience with: Plastic straws. With approximately 500 million single-use plastic straws being used every single day in the United States, recycling plastic straws is an important topic. Environmentally-conscious people may ask themselves, “How do I get rid of plastic straws?“, and unfortunately the answer is not that simple because, unlike plastic bottle recycling, single-use plastic straws are often not accepted by recycling facilities because their small size can cause difficulties with recycling equipment. Our Happy Planet understands the significant impact single-use plastic straws have on the environment. That is why we are here to provide detailed information about plastic straw recycling and alternatives to plastic straws!

What To Do With Plastic Straws

Placing single-use plastic straws in the recycling bin is what most people do when looking to recycle plastic straws. However, simply placing used plastic straws in the recycle bin does not necessarily mean that they will be recycled because plastic straws create a unique problem for recycling facilities. The problem is that plastic straws are flexible, small, and bendy, making them problematic for recycling machinery. That results in many plastic straws not being recycled. Therefore, the best thing people can do who are concerned with how do I dispose of plastic straws is to be proactive in simply not using any single-use plastic straws. That means choosing plastic straw alternatives such as plant-based straws, reusable steel straws, or opting to pass on using any plastic straws whenever possible. However, if you are going to use a plastic straw, then reusing it for a different application is a great way to be environmentally conscious.

How do plastic straws affect the environment?

The creation of plastic straws requires energy created through the use of fossil fuels, which create pollution. However, the biggest way plastic straws affect the environment is through their single-use nature. Plastic straws are frequently used one time, then disposed of where they will rest in landfills for nearly 500 years, or find their way into the ocean where they will break down into micro-plastics and make their way into the food chain.

How many plastic straws get recycled?

Plastic straws may be small, but they are creating a significant challenge for recycling centers. The reason is that any item smaller than 2×2 inches, such as plastic straws or other single-use plastic utensils, falls through machinery designed to sort recyclables. So how many plastic straws get recycled each year? Sadly, the answer is almost every plastic straw placed in a recycle bin designated for proper disposal still ends up in landfills. Therefore, the best method of keeping single-use plastic straws out of landfills and the ocean is to be mindful not to use the products. Plastic straws in landfills will not decompose for hundreds of years. The plastic straws that reach oceans will break down as micro-plastics, presenting a completely different environmental problem.

Top 10 Plastic Straw Recycling FAQs

  1. How do plastic straws get into the ocean? Single-use plastic straws can make their way into the ocean in a variety of ways. Plastic straws get into the ocean when people leave them on the beach, when they fall off boats (cruise ships, transport boats, etc), are blown off waste management vehicles, or people simply liter used plastic straws. When single-use plastic straws are littered they, like most other forms of waste, routinely end up in the ocean.
  2. What is the best material for reusable straws? There are many great alternatives to plastic straws that not only biodegrade in an environmentally-friendly fashion, but also can be reused many times. The best material for reusable straws includes steel, bamboo, paper, glass, and even plant-based straws!
  3. How long do plastic straws take to decompose? Single-use plastic straws can take nearly 500 years to decompose, making it important that people look into plastic straw alternatives. Some of the smaller plastic straws may decompose sooner, but regardless any of the plastic straws you have used in the past are still alive in a landfill or the ocean somewhere and will outlive you, your children, and their grandchildren!
  4. Are paper straws more expensive than plastic straws? The reality is most businesses operate with the intention of making money, which unfortunately means environmental impact takes a backseat to greed. Single-use plastic straws cost roughly half-a-cent to produce, whereas more eco-friendly paper straws that can biodegrade quickly cost approximately 2.5 cents to produce. That is a difference of about 500%, which is substantial when you consider that some research has shown that Americans use nearly 500 million plastic straws every single day!
  5. Are plastic straws reusable? Plastic straws can be recycled but almost all plastic recycling facilities do not accept them because small plastic straws can fall between cracks in plastic recycling machinery. This is one of the main reasons plastic straws are not recycled at the same percentage as plastic bottles.
  6. How do plastic straws affect turtles? The sad reality is that single-use plastic straws often end up in the ocean where they can have a negative impact on wildlife. For example, plastic straws affect turtles by getting stuck in the nose of turtles, restricting airways, and often causing death. Turtles also can view plastic straws as food, consuming the material which is also very harmful. Currently, it is estimated that over one million sea animals are killed each year because of plastic debris in oceans, and over 100 million tons of plastic circulates throughout all the oceans.
  7. How do plastic straws hurt animals? Plastic straws hurt animals who consume the material in a variety of different ways. For example, seabirds die when consuming plastic straws because they will sit in the bird’s belly and take up space, causing the birds to die of starvation. Plastic straws cause intestinal injury to fish, who then pass along those consumed micro-plastics up the food to humans.
  8. What percent of plastic straws end up in the ocean?  Most research shows that around 3% of all single-use plastic straws end up in the ocean. This may seem like a small amount, but the damage is substantial, with estimates showing that well over a million sea animals die from plastic straws each year.
  9. How many plastic straws are used each day in the US? There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the data related to how many plastic straws are used each day in the United States, but the prevailing thought is the number stands around 500 million!
  10. How much do plastic straws cost? On average, a single-use plastic straw costs half-a-cent to manufacture. More environmentally-friendly plastic straw alternatives such as paper straws cost nearly 5x more to produce.

What companies have banned plastic straws?

The ongoing battle to reduce plastic straws from ending up in the ocean has resulted in many companies choosing to ban the use of plastic straws. Starbucks was one of the first and largest companies to ban single-use plastic straws at all their store locations. Still, other companies include American Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, Disney, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, and more importantly, many states and cities!

Straws – 10 Alternatives to Plastic Straws

What are the alternatives to plastic straws, and eco-friendly options to reducing single-use straws? The answer actually comes in a variety of reusable and biodegradable choices that include:

  • Using No Straw: What is better than using a plastic straw? Not using one at all!
  • Water Bottles: One of the biggest trends is water bottles with metal liners that stay cool for hours. These are a great alternative to plastic straws.
  • Glass Straws: What makes glass straws a fantastic alternative to single-use plastic straws is that they can be reused over and over again. Glass straws are toxin-free and lead-free, making them safe to use.
  • Steel Straws: Benefits of using steel straws include that they do not bend or break, can help keep a drink cool, can be reused many times, and have BPA which is a toxic chemical found in many plastics.
  • Paper Straws: Less durable and not really ideal for reuse, paper straws are still a great alternative to plastic straws because even though both are single-use options, paper straws biodegrade far more quickly.
  • Bamboo Straws: Made from real bamboo stalks, bamboo straws are fun, washable, and most importantly reusable!
  • Acrylic Straws: A BPA-free solution, acrylic straws can be reused for short durations of time.
  • Plant-Based Straws: Made from plant starches and oil, plant-based straws are typically made of corn products and decompose naturally.
  • Ice Straws: A fun option for kids, ice straws can be molded and frozen in hours. Toss in a little food coloring to give the ice straws a little color!
  • Hay Straws: Straws made from natural wheat stems that are perfectly biodegradable.

How many plastic straws did we replace with sustainable alternatives this year by using paper straws, steel straws, and other options mentioned above? The answer is hard to gauge but with cities such as Seattle legislating that all food-service businesses most not provide a straw unless asked, and only then provide a paper straw, the numbers are certainly high. Even more so when you factor in how more cities and states such as California are pushing environmentally-friendly legislation that focuses on the reduction of all single-use plastic items such as plastic bags and plastic straws.