Paper Straws Aren’t the Answer
Updated: Aug 5, 2019
Recently, cities across America have started to implement a trendy, and legal ban on plastic straws. Legislation has passed in major metropolitan cities such as Seattle and Washington D.C. and is pending in California and New York. But this craze doesn’t stop at with the government, many major corporations have joined the trend of banning plastic straws including, the major power house, Walt Disney World.
In addition to plastic lids, Walt Disney World has banned plastic straws, opting instead for paper ones. But why all of a sudden is a straw ban the popular thing to do and does it really help make an ecological change?
Surprisingly, the straw ban movement began with a 9-year-old boy named Milo Cress and his 2011 campaign, "Be Straw Free," which he launched to raise awareness about plastic waste. In his report, he preached that Americans use more than 500 million drinking straws daily. But how did a 9-year-old come up with this figure that is now highly quoted by major news sources?
He called straw manufacturers and asked them to estimate the straw market in the United States per day. He received “… an estimate of around 500 million straws," Cress said. "That was the number that I stuck to, because it seemed to be around the middle of what they were saying."
In addition, a 2015 viral video showed rescuers removing a straw from a sea turtle's nose in graphic and bloody detail. (Seriously, don’t watch if you get sick easily.)
These two events spurred this mass ban of plastic straws and the switch to either paper or no straws. So a 9-year-old making phone calls and a viral video are what our governments and major corporations are basing our eco-foot print decisions on?
Ok, I know what you are thinking, “But reducing our plastic consumption is a good thing, no matter how small!” Yes! Totally agree! Well, sort of… Single use plastic consumption is a problem that we need to work on but paper straws aren’t the perfect eco solution either.
Why Paper Straws Are Good…And Bad
Here are some of the good things about paper straws:
Paper straws are paper straws are fully biodegradable and compostable. If they do end up in the ocean, they’ll start to break down within just three days.
Unlike plastic, paper straws will decompose back into the earth within 2-6 weeks.
They are safer for wildlife.
Now that we got that out of the way…Here is why paper straws are deceiving us all;
Paper products can take approximately 10% more energy and 4 times as much water to produce. On average they also cost more per unit. This ends up hurting the environment and the consumer’s wallet more than plastic.
Paper straws often break down before you can finish your beverage resulting in the consumer grabbing 2 or more straws and actually creating more waste.
One time use, paper products that have come in contact with food generally cannot be recycled.
People with disabilities often find it difficult to lift or hold cups or use standard paper straws due to their delicate nature.
Many people who suffer from life threatening allergies, such as gluten, wheat or corn, aren’t getting the answers they need from companies to know if their paper straws are safe to use.
Paper straws often alter the flavor of your beverage, especially once they start to break down.
Alternatives to Paper Straws That Major Companies Should be Offering Now that we have the good, the bad and the ugly side of paper straws, I am sure you are thinking, “If paper straws are just as bad as plastic, what do I use?” Well after a quick Google search, I was pleasantly surprised to find many alternatives to paper and single use plastic straws!
No Straw: Of course the most common answer to this great straw debate is to go straw-less! But for little ones, people with disabilities and those that suffer from sensitive or oral health issues, this is problematic.
Re-Useable Straws: Reusable straws are great for home or office use and come in all kinds of materials like glass, metal, silicone, and yes, plastic. These are great since you are re-using them over and over but for guests on the go at a major theme park like Walt Disney World, a reusable straw becomes kind of a gross thing. You use it and then what? Wash it out in a bathroom? Just wrap it in a napkin and hope it doesn’t leak in your bag or pocket? Yuck!
Natural Straws: Natural straws like bamboo or Hey! Straws are great because they are naturally grown plant straws. They are biodegradable just like the paper ones but cost significantly less to ‘manufacture’ than any other type of straw. The only down fall with these are the potential for allergy sufferers to have a reaction to them.
BioPlastics: There are alternatives to traditional plastics that look and feel almost exactly the same. Bioplastics only take one third of the energy needed to make regular plastic straws and they're generally compostable: they decay into natural materials that blend harmlessly with soil. Some bioplastics can break down in a matter of weeks. Plus they can be used in hot beverages, last just as long as a normal straw and don’t alter the taste of your drink!
The most common bioplastics are made from corn which is a problem for those with a corn allergy but another bioplastic is on the rise; Hemp Plastic and avocado pit plastic. Both have all the benefits of corn based bioplastic but don’t take away from food production, have low allergy risks and are more affordable than ever!
Let there be no mistake: I support shifting from single use plastics to compostable and reusable materials whenever feasible. Yet, I continue to see alternatives for bigger corporations that don’t involve paper straws.
If you would like to read more check out Minnie On Main’s article for a prospective from a geologist and Disney lover.
Do you like paper straws?
Do you use any plastic straw alternatives?
Try out a bio-plastic straw for just $0.04 per straw here!
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Article By TMR Tours