We all know that normal paper can be recycled. But, does that mean that paper straws are also recyclable, and therefore eco-friendly?
In theory, paper straws made out of pure paper can be recycled. However, this doesn’t mean that all paper straws are actually recycled by recycling facilities. In fact, the majority of paper straws are not recycled, and this depends on a few different factors.
Be sure to read more below, where I discuss why not all paper straws can be recycled, and why not all paper straws are biodegradable or compostable. I also discuss the different ways for you to responsibly dispose of your used paper straws.
Let’s get started:
Why Can’t Paper Straws Be Recycled?
There are a few large barriers to paper straw recycling, which I’ll explain below.
1. Some Paper Straws Are Lined With Non-Recyclable Plastic
Some “paper” straws have a plastic lining inside the inner layer of the straw. This is supposed to prevent the straw from getting soggy, but also makes the straw non-recyclable.
2. Most Recyclers Do Not Accept Food-Contaminated Products
Another barrier in the recycling process is that most recyclers do NOT accept food-contaminated products. This means that if your straw has been soaked in anything other than water, it will likely be rejected at the recycling facility.
Keep in mind that not all recyclers reject food-contaminated products, so this does depend on your location and the garbage collection process in your area.
3. Some Paper Straws Are Too Thick To Be Recycled
Some paper straws are also too thick or condensed to be processed by recyclers. This is the case with the paper straws at McDonald’s, which are made out of thick, condensed paper that some facilities (in the UK) cannot recycle.
So, even though normal paper is recyclable, paper straws are not always recyclable. If your paper straw has a plastic lining on the inside, or if it is contaminated with food/beverage, then it is probably NOT recyclable.
You can do a Google search or check your city garbage collection program’s website to see if paper straws can be recycled in your specific area, just to make sure.
Are All Paper Straws Biodegradable or Compostable?
Paper straws that are made out of pure paper will biodegrade if they are left in nature, usually within a few weeks. Likewise, paper straws are generally also compostable in your garden.
However, the term biodegradable can sometimes be misleading. While a paper straw will generally biodegrade within a few weeks in nature, they will not biodegrade in a landfill setting.
Landfills are an oxygen-free environment that are specifically designed to prevent decomposition. After all, you wouldn’t want a large pile of trash to start decomposing and collapsing on itself. This means that if you discard your paper straw into the trash (which ends up in a landfill), it will probably never biodegrade.
It’s also important to note that some paper straws may have had chemicals added in the manufacturing process to keep the straw water-resistant and durable. If so, then it’s probably best to not compost your specific straw.
How to Dispose of Paper Straws (While Being Eco-Friendly)
So, how do you dispose of your paper straws while being eco-friendly? First, I’ll go over three ways to responsibly dispose of your used paper straws. Then, I’ll also go over how NOT to dispose of them (or what you shouldn’t do).
1. Bury Paper Straws into the Ground
The first way to responsibly dispose of your paper straws is to bury them into the ground. Paper straws that are buried in the ground will be broken down by decomposers and will naturally biodegrade.
Just make sure that your straw is made out of pure paper, and has no traces of any toxic chemicals or plastic lining.
2. Compost Paper Straws in Your Garden
Paper straws can also be composted in your garden’s compost bin, although they probably won’t add much nutrient value to your soil.
Again, make sure that the paper straw is made out of pure paper, and has no traces of any toxic chemicals or plastic lining.
3. Recycle if Possible
Last but not least, if paper straws are recyclable in your area, then (obviously) you can just recycle them.
How NOT to Dispose of Paper Straws:
- Do not throw paper straws into the trash. If a paper straw ends up in a landfill, it will be in an oxygen-free environment and will likely NEVER biodegrade
- Do not put paper straws into the compost waste collection bin (your city’s compost bin). Paper straws might be sorted out at a compost facility because most compost collectors only accept food products.
What Are Some Other Solutions to the Plastic Straws Problem?
In the end, paper straws are still not the best solution to our plastic straws problem. After all, paper straws are still a single-use product, and as you’ve already learned, they don’t always biodegrade, and aren’t always recyclable.
So, what are some other solutions to our plastic straw pollution problem?
The easiest solution is to just drink your beverage without the use of any straw. For most of us, straws in general are a useless and very wasteful accessory that we could go without.
I also believe that restaurants should stop automatically giving out straws with every drink ordered. Instead, they should adopt a policy to only give out straws when a customer requests.
There are also some reusable alternatives to plastic straws, like bamboo straws, stainless steel straws, or silicone straws. It’s important to note that not all reusable straws are completely eco-friendly, but they are an option if you really want or need a straw.
Finally, I do not believe that banning plastic straws is a viable solution. Some disabled people require the use of straws to drink water and other beverages, and banning plastic straws could cause an accessibility issue.
In the end, the best solution to our plastic waste problem is to just reduce the amount of plastic that we use, without switching to other single-use, wasteful alternatives.