Paper Straws are double agents.
You're probably asking yourself, "What are you talking about?!?!" Well let's see how much you remember FIRST about single-use plastics.
Plastic Straws are evil villains. (True)
Reusable straws are one of our best superheroes. (SUPER TRUE!)
Paper straws can be used when you're in a pinch and good for the environment.
NEWS FLASH - FALSE! Let's back up for a moment, again!
Yes, plastic straws are bad for marine life and for our environment all around. Single-use plastics are just bad all together, for everyone. These single-use plastics choke animals and litters our communities. Plus, they are NOT biodegradable. So over the year you have probably seen me push reusable straws, or even paper straws - BUT - I've learned that paper straws are double crossing agents. They are actually NO GOOD for our environment. (Shocker, I KNOW!) Let me explain.
Though paper straws can be biodegradable (depending on several factors). Paper straws are also made of TREES. (Yes that is better than plastic BUT you are still cutting down a tree!) Paper products require MUCH more energy and resources to manufacture. Therefore, more greenhouse gases are emitted during production than plastics. (Great ... now we are taking five steps backwards.) This is enough reason for me to only use my reusable straw and stay away from plastic and paper straws altogether, but if you need more facts, here we go.
When you hear paper straws are made from paper so therefore it is biodegradable that isn't actually true. "Biodegradable" means the carbon material of a product has to break down by only 60% after 180 days. However that means the paper straw has to be composted, not thrown in the trash to end up in the landfill. So now you're probably thinking: "But Erin, if it's biodegradable and ends up in the landfill, won't it still decompose likes it is supposed to and still be better than plastic straws?" And my answer would be "technically you are correct about breaking down but still no better than plastic" (due to more energy and resources used to produce). But being biodegradable means this break-down process is supposed to happen faster and unless you are mass-composting at home or your city has an industrial composting site (WHICH very few are found in our country!), then no, paper straws are no better than plastic straws.
You cannot recycle paper straws even if it's made of paper BECAUSE the product is soaked in liquid. You cannot recycle things that have food waste on them. That is why you cannot recycle pizza boxes, but you CAN compost them! So when restaurants offer you a paper straw, ask them if they compost. If the answer is "no" then I would still skip the paper straw. (Besides, how often do you see compost bins around your city, or in restaurants? In Louisiana, it's like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to find a recycling bin ANYWHERE!) Those straws can still end up in the ocean and consumed by marine life and cause blockage, illness, and possibly death.
So here's how you can be the superhero and save the world:
At a restaurant, when placing a drink order, REFUSE the straw up front. (I had a waitress put it on the ticket in the computer!)
Bring your own reusable straws (along with reusable to-go containers if you plan on bringing home left-overs)
Ask the manager if the restaurant composts and see if they will compost the paper straws. (Though I have yet to find a restaurant to do this.) Or if not, suggest it.
You can even ask the manager to consider making it a policy to ask if the customer wants a straw or not, to cut down on waste and cost.
So the moral of the story is to always be diligent. Stay informed. Ask questions. Be ready for change. A super heroes work is never done. Always have your reusable items, as they are your side kicks after all! Show us your reusable straws and tag us on social media. We would love to feature you in the "superhero spotlight!"