Can You Recycle Paper Straws?

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

As people become more and more aware of climate change, the effects of plastic on the environment, and just how much plastic is being thrown into the trash every day, it was only natural that people wanted to do something about it.

Therefore, one solution became paper straws. However, are paper straws doing more harm than good? Continue reading to find out this answer and more!

Can You Recycle Paper Straws?

Paper straws are not recyclable. Paper products that have food residue on them cannot be recycled. Furthermore, some paper straws have a plastic lining to help slow down deterioration while in liquid, and those types of straws cannot be composted either. Additionally, paper straws are too thick to be recycled. 

The fact that the supposedly eco-friendly option of single-use plastic is in actuality not eco-friendly at all is a shock to most people when they discover the truth. Read on to learn what exactly you can do with paper straws in the most environmentally friendly way

Why Are Paper Straws Not Recyclable?

Generally speaking, paper straws are not recyclable. While some districts and counties do recycle paper straws, a lot do not. 

This is due to several factors that come from the nature of the paper straw itself:

  • There is food in and/or on the paper straw.
  • The paper straw is too thick to be processed in the recycling plant.
  • The paper straw has plastic on the interior.
  • Paper straws are too small to go through the machines at the recycling plant without falling out of them. 
  • The paper is recyclable but the glue holding the straw together is not. 
  • The cost of recycling paper straws is greater than actually making the product itself. 

In theory, in some districts, you could recycle paper straws. But they cannot have any food or drink residue on them and there cannot be any plastic on the interior. 

However, the workers at the recycling facility are not going to check every straw to see if they are able to be recycled. 

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Also, it is wasteful to buy a product and not use it just so you can recycle it.

How Do I Dispose Of Paper Straws?

Depending on what kind of paper straw you are using, there are ways where you can dispose of it in an eco-friendly way. 

However, not all straws are made equally so not all straws can be disposed of in the same way. 

First, check with your town to see if they accept paper straws for recycling as some towns will accept paper straws. However, others might not. 

Therefore, if your town does not recycle paper straws, then you can put them in a backyard compost pile. 

If the straw is made entirely of biodegradable materials, it will deteriorate in about a month or two, however, if there is plastic in the straw, then it will take up to 200 years to deteriorate. 

Although, if your paper straw does have plastic in it, you can peel the paper off the plastic and compost that. 

Unfortunately, the plastic part of the paper straw will have to go into the trash. 

If you do not have time to separate the paper and the plastic, then you have to throw the whole thing in the garbage. 

Are Paper Straws Biodegradable?

If the paper straw is made entirely out of paper, then it is possible the paper straw is biodegradable. 

However, paper straws use glue to hold them together, therefore, depending on the company making the paper straw, the glue may not actually be biodegradable. 

This is why it is important to check before doing anything.

If the glue is not biodegradable or if there is any plastic in the paper straw, it is unwise to try to compost it. 

Additionally, if you do try to compost non-biodegradable materials, then that material will pollute the ground and potentially go into the water table. 

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Furthermore, if the microplastics go into the water table, they will contaminate it, making it unsafe to drink. 

Can I Compost Plastic Straws?

Can I Compost Plastic Straws?

When it is possible, composting plastic straws is the best choice to make for the environment. 

By doing so, you are allowing the materials to return to the earth. 

Furthermore, you can use your compost pile in your garden which helps your plants grow, and will further help the planet’s ecosystem. 

Therefore, only compost your paper straws if you are 100 percent sure every element of them is biodegradable.

 Here are some questions to answer before you put paper straws in your compost pile:

  • Are the straws made entirely out of paper?
  • Is the glue biodegradable?
  • Is the glue safe to put into the ground?
  • Does the paper have any materials that are toxic to the environment?

If the answers to the first three questions are yes and the answer to the last question is no, then it is safe to put your used paper straws in your backyard compost pile. 

What Are Paper Straws Made Out of?

Depending on the paper straw, it can be made out of a variety of different materials. 

For example, there are a few basic materials that paper straws are made out of:

  • Food grade paper
  • Glue
  • Ink 
  • Plastic (sometimes)

The ink in paper straws is used to color them, therefore, paper straws come in all sorts of colors and designs. 

Are Paper Straws Bad For The Environment?

While paper straws are not necessarily horrible for the environment, they are not as good as they are marketed as being. 

They are not recyclable and because of this, most will end up in landfills. 

Additionally, because landfills are often covered with dirt and grass, this prevents the amount of oxygen needed for trash to deteriorate. 

Thus, it takes even longer for paper straws to degrade. 

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Paper straws decompose much faster in salt water than they do in the ground, for example, they will disintegrate within 2 to 3 days in the ocean. 

Furthermore, this gives them less of an opportunity to be eaten by ocean wildlife. 

So paper straws are not good for the environment generally, however, they are safer than plastic straws when wild animals come across them.

What Are The Downsides Of Paper Straws?

There is a lot of pushback when it comes to restaurants and fast food companies switching to paper straws. 

People do not like them for a variety of extremely valid reasons:

  • Paper straws disintegrate when in liquid. 
  • It is extremely difficult to drink thicker drinks such as milkshakes with paper straws. 
  • They are nearly impossible and not safe for people with disabilities to use. 

While some people are able to drink drinks without any type of straw, that is simply not the case for people with a disability. 

Furthermore, paper straws are also extremely easy to bite through, causing a choking hazard.

Therefore, without plastic straws, there is an extremely present danger that a person with a disability might accidentally choke on the liquid. 

Conclusion 

Paper straws are not recyclable nor are they the perfect solution to single-use plastics that paper straw companies make them out to be. However, they are not nearly as bad for the environment as plastic straws when it comes to wildlife and their biodegradability. 

However, it takes a lot of time and effort that people simply do not have in this busy modern-day world to figure out whether or not the paper straw you just used is recyclable or compostable. As a result of this, most paper straws are going to end up in a landfill anyway. 

Author

  • Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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