paper drinking straws, paper straws, drinking straws, sustainable straws, compostable straws, biodegradable straws, eco-friendly straws, are paper drinking stores sustainable, are paper drinking straws eco-friendly

Paper drinking straws: Are they really an eco-friendly option?

Estimates suggest that 500 million straws are used daily in the US alone. Notably, one study published in 2019 estimated that 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches. As a result, paper drinking straws have become a significant part of the global movement to protect marine life and reduce plastic pollution.

As awareness around plastic pollution increases, the paper drinking straw market is expected to reach $4.53 billion by 2028. Paper straws are often made from renewable materials, such as paper and bamboo, which are biodegradable and sustainable. Furthermore, they do not require specialised treatments or maintenance, so they can be disposed of without contaminating the environment with harmful chemicals. 

Statistics show a growing number of consumers are choosing to prioritise eco-friendly and sustainable businesses. More so, several reports have shown that 82% of shoppers expect brands to embrace sustainable practices.

However, considering the major uptick in demand, are paper-based straws as eco-friendly as they appear to be?

Paper straws: Understanding the manufacturing process

It’s important to understand how paper straws are manufactured in order to determine how sustainable they really are. 

To create paper straws, several thin reels of paper are first run through a glue bath. These tacky reels are then wound together into a long paper cylinder. Those cylinders are then cut to size, packaged, and shipped, 

When it comes to marine life, it is clear that paper straws are a safer alternative. The materials used to make them are composed of various biodegradable fibres, which break down quickly when disposed of correctly. 

However, there are growing environmental concerns around the manufacturing process of paper straws and the impact it may have on the current climate crisis. Although many pros lie within these straws throughout their decomposition cycle, major problems arise in their manufacturing. 

Research shows paper drinking straws ‌emit more carbon emissions than their plastic counterparts. The production of paper drinking straws consumes a significant amount of energy. Beyond this, it produces a large quantity of greenhouse gas emissions

To explain, producing a plastic straw requires 39 kilojoules of energy and produces 1.5 grams of carbon dioxide emissions. However, producing a paper straw requires 96 kilojoules of energy and produces 4.1 grams of carbon dioxide emissions. 

paper drinking straws, paper straws, drinking straws, sustainable straws, compostable straws, biodegradable straws, eco-friendly straws, are paper drinking stores sustainable, are paper drinking straws eco-friendly

The consumer experience with paper drinking straws 

Research shows the majority of consumers find paper straws inconvenient. Prolonged contact with liquids often causes them to become soggy. More so, when these straws are used in carbonated beverages, many bubbles form because of their surface properties, which can disrupt the consumers’ drinking experience. 

Beyond this, some brands of paper straws can alter the taste of the beverage. As it weakens and breaks down, often during use, small pieces of paper may end up floating in the drink, changing its taste. 

As awareness around safety concerns and sensory quality increases, coffee shops and roasteries should ensure the paper straws they provide consumers are fit for purpose. 

Interestingly, a recent project highlighted that paper straws can behave differently when exposed to different liquids. Paper straws were tested in juice and water, at two different temperatures, for different lengths of time. 

Notably, the tests revealed that the temperature and type of beverage affected the integrity of the paper straws. As these factors can impact the performance of paper straws, businesses need to consider the different scenarios in which consumers will use them. Therefore, adequate testing is essential to ensure the paper straw of choice is suitable for the different drinks’ applications. 

paper drinking straws, paper straws, drinking straws, sustainable straws, compostable straws, biodegradable straws, eco-friendly straws, are paper drinking stores sustainable, are paper drinking straws eco-friendly

Are paper straws sustainable?

There is plenty of debate over paper straws versus their plastic counterparts. Considering how they tend to react in liquids, and the popularity of straws altogether, are they the more sustainable option?

When considering the environmental impact, paper straws offer a more eco–friendly avenue for businesses. Overall, paper drinking straws are made from less damaging and renewable resources, and they are biodegradable. 

Reduce, reuse, and recycle are the core fundamental principles of sustainability. Paper straws, however, are still disposable, single-use items that are not reusable in the conventional sense. 

Beyond this, there are several issues surrounding local recycling plant practices and regulations. While most paper goods can be recycled, the majority of recycling facilities do not accept items that have been in contact with food.

The likelihood is very high that your recycling programme will toss your paper straw in the garbage rather than recycle it. This is most likely because it will have absorbed part of the beverage it’s been in contact with. 

Many may argue that paper straws are biodegradable, which automatically makes them more sustainable than traditional plastics. However, for a paper straw to biodegrade correctly, the restaurant must provide compost bins for customers to discard their food scraps and biodegradable items.

Therefore, paper-based straws won’t be able to compost because landfills are built to prevent decomposition, leaving them to remain in the trash for years. 

Making environmentally beneficial decisions in your establishment can be challenging. Many consumers find it difficult to choose environmentally friendly products because of a lack of availability, accessibility, and affordability.

However, you can contribute to a better future by opting to use straws made from bioplastics or sugarcane, rather than traditional plastic or uncoated paper straws. Sugarcane straws, for example, are crafted from highly renewable materials and are incredibly durable in both hot and cold drinks.

Moreover, a sugarcane plant can be harvested and replanted every year as it matures in approximately 12 months. The forests that produce paper, on the other hand, can take decades to mature and renew.

Considering the material differences between paper and plastic straws, it becomes clear which is the more eco-friendly option. Plastic straws are primarily composed of petroleum, which is an unsustainable resource that can be toxic to the environment once produced. 

Paper, on the other hand, is made from less damaging and reusable sources. In terms of cost efficiency, straws made from paper may have higher upfront costs. However, the added sustainability makes up for any short-term expense.