I’ve heard from some people that plastic straws can be recycled. I’ve also heard the opposite from others. So, I started wondering, how can I recycle plastic straws and dispose of them properly?
As it turns out, plastic straws can technically be recycled. The problem is that plastic straws are small, thin, and bend easily. This is a problem because they easily fall into the cracks and crevices of recycling machinery. Therefore, most recyclers do not accept plastic straws, and most straws that do make it to a recycling facility do not become recycled.
However, after performing some research, I have found an easy way to properly dispose of plastic straws and get them recycled easily.
You can read below to learn more about how to recycle plastic straws. You’ll also find other, better ways you can help solve this plastic problem.
Why are Plastic Straws bad anyway?
Plastic straws become a big problem after they are thrown out. The world uses a lot of plastic straws, and many of these end up in landfills or polluting the environment.
Last year, Americans bought an estimated 390 million plastic straws each day (Source: New York Times). That amounts to about 142 billion straws per year!
Plastic straws (and any type of plastic, for that matter), are particularly harmful to the marine environment. Plastic can be mistaken for food, and can choke and kill many marine animals.
Scientists estimate that 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from ingesting plastic.
To see first-hand the damaging effects of plastic straws on marine life, the video below shows researchers removing a straw from a sea turtle’s nose. It likely got stuck after the turtle accidentally swallowed the straw, and got it stuck while trying to cough it out.
To make matters worse, plastic straws do not biodegrade. Instead, they continue to degrade (break down) into smaller and smaller pieces. These tiny fragments of plastic are known as microplastics.
Microplastics can be harmful to marine life, and they stay in our oceans and ecosystems forever.
Related Article: How Do Microplastics Affect The Environment?
Why can’t Plastic Straws be Recycled?
Plastic straws are made out of type 5 plastic, also known as polypropylene.
Although polypropylene can be recycled, most recycling facilities do not accept plastic straws. Straws are small and flexible, and can fall between the cracks of machinery, or get stuck in machinery. Therefore, they usually do not get recycled (Source).
On that note, there are some cities and recyclers that may have the ability to recycle plastic straws. A simple Google search should help you find out whether you can directly place plastic straws in your recycling bin.
However, if your city supposedly doesn’t recycle plastic straws, I have found a special trick that you can use to get them recycled, as you’ll see below.
How to Properly Recycle Plastic Straws (Easily)
If your city does not have the ability to recycle plastic straws, then you can use my trick (which I call the “Repackaging Method”) to get them recycled properly.
Here are the details:
Instead of directly placing plastic straws in the recycling bin, put them first into a larger container that is also made out of polypropylene, or type 5 plastic.
This way, the plastic straws stored in the larger polypropylene container won’t fall through the cracks of conveyor belts during the sorting process. Therefore, they will make it past the sorting process and get recycled with other pieces of polypropylene.
Please note that some recycling facilities use human sorters, and your container might still be manually sorted out and tossed into the garbage. However, if your container makes it past the sorting stage, your straws will be shredded, cleaned, and re-processed (melted) along with other pieces of polypropylene in the plastic recycling process.
Some examples of type 5 plastic containers that straws can be placed into include plastic take-out containers, microwavable plastic containers, and margarine tubs or other similar containers.
To check if your container is the proper type, just check for the recycling label. Type 5 plastic (polypropylene) will be marked with a number 5 inside the recycling symbol. The image below illustrates this symbol:
This method isn’t foolproof, however.
Although my method means that plastic straws can be recycled by recycling machinery and recyclers, it doesn’t mean that the plastic will be recycled.
What do I mean by this?
Well you see, there is very little demand for recycled polypropylene, as it is worth very little, and it is very cheap to manufacture.
As a result, not many recyclers will recycle all the type 5 plastic that they receive. It just doesn’t make sense financially. In the end, some of the plastic will end up in landfills, even if it could have been recycled.
The bottom line?
Recycling isn’t the best option if you want to help solve this plastic straws problem. In fact, I don’t recommend that you use plastic straws and then recycle them, because recycling still involves the use of energy and other resources.
Below, you’ll find two ways of tackling this straws problem that are even better than recycling.
Hint: It will involve simply not using a plastic straw!
Other (Better) ways to Solve the Plastic Straws Problem
1. Drink without a straw
The easiest way to counter this plastic straws problem is to just reduce your usage of plastic straws, or stop using them entirely.
Plastic straws are a non-essential item for most people. Think about it… do you really need that plastic straw to drink, or can you just drink directly from the cup?
For most people, it’s a simple change that makes a pretty big difference. Just stop using plastic straws in the first place, and you won’t have the problem of disposing of them!
For example, you can start off by requesting for your drink without a straw at restaurants. Restaurants usually give out straws automatically with your drink, so it’s important that you ask before you order your drink.
This is the simplest way to solve the straw problem. Simply drink from a cup directly, without a plastic straw!
2. Use reusable alternatives to plastic straws
Some people prefer to drink their beverage using a straw. If so, there are many biodegradable or reusable straw options to choose from, instead of using plastic ones.
For example, you can buy reusable glass or stainless steel straws that can be used over and over again. Most will also come with cleaning brushes when you buy them, so it’s super easy to clean.
I recommend using stainless steel reusable straws over glass ones. Stainless steel straws are more durable than glass straws, and they are cheap too, costing around $1 to $2 each.
This set of stainless steel drinking straws comes with 12 straws and 2 cleaning brushes. You can use this link to check out the current price on Amazon.com.
While reusable straws are good options for individuals, it would be complicated for restaurants to serve reusable straws. The best solution for restaurants who still want to serve straws is to use biodegradable paper straws.
Properly-made paper straws don’t rip or fall apart easily when placed into a liquid. And, they can be bought relatively cheaply, although they are still more expensive than plastic straws.
If restaurants insist on keeping with the tradition of serving straws, then the most environmentally-friendly option is to use paper straws instead of plastic ones.
Should we Ban Plastic Straws?
There’s no doubt that plastic straws are bad for the environment. However, an argument against banning all plastic straws is that some people need straws for their well-being.
For example, some disabled people need straws to drink. For them, carrying reusable straws everywhere they go (and washing them too) is just not a great option.
In addition, banning plastic straws might not necessarily make the public any more aware of the environmental issues of single-use plastics.
While a plastic straws ban might be a step in the right direction, the bigger picture of this entire problem is single-use plastic. We should focus on using less of all single-use plastics, not only plastic straws.
For example, bottled water, plastic bags, and plastic take-out containers are also huge problems for the environment that could be easily avoided.
The bottom line?
For most of us, plastic straws are a useless accessory in our lives. For others, their well-being depends on plastic straws. For those of us who can, we should try to limit our use of single-use plastic as much as possible.
Please share this message with your friends and together, we can tackle the global plastic problem. You can share this article on social media using the share buttons below.