How many times have you used a plastic straw without even thinking about it?
The plastic straw has become an everyday object, despite the fact that most of us don’t really need them.
And although you might barely notice the plastic straw in your cup, their effect on the environment can be felt across the globe.
Recycling plastic straws is a confusing question, with a slightly tricky answer.
Although the plastic straw can be recycled, it often has to end up in the landfill anyway. Find out more with this guide.
Are Plastic Straws Recyclable?
The short answer is no, plastic straws aren’t recyclable.
The longer answer is that plastic straws are technically recyclable, but the design makes them almost impossible to actually recycle.
This means that the majority of plastic straws used end up in landfills, slowly degrading and releasing microplastics into the environment.
Plastic straws are generally made of polypropylene, otherwise known as #5 plastic, or PP plastic.
In most places, this common household plastic can not be placed in curbside recycling.
So, if you’re using plastic straws at home, they can’t then be placed in your plastic recycling.
Some industrial recycling facilities can recycle polypropylene, but now we come to another problem. And this one is inherent to the straw itself.
Straws are small and lightweight, which means they’re often undetected on the conveyor belt. Instead, they might fall into the cracks of the machinery.
And there’s another problem with the thin and bendy straw — liquid residue gets stuck inside and grows bacteria.
That means they can’t be recycled, and end up in the landfill.
How To Dispose Of Used Plastic Straws?
Plastic straws have become a common item in everyday life, and although measures are being taken to reduce their prominence, it still isn’t unusual to be handed a plastic straw with your drink.
But what do you do with your plastic straws?
We tend to be given plastic straws with take out cups, which means we won’t necessarily be finished with them in an eatery with a recycling trash can.
Instead, we’ll use the straw in our car, our homes, or while out and about. Keep hold of any plastic straws you use on the go, so you can take better care with them.
Give your plastic straws a thorough clean, and check online to see if your local recycling facility accepts number 5 plastic.
If not, you might want to try and think of some creative ways to use the straws. If you have kids, try and incorporate your plastic straws into craft projects.
Or into your own craft projects, whatever they might be. Alternatively, you can try reusing your straws. However, after a good clean, they do tend to fall apart.
Otherwise, make sure to dispose of the straws correctly. Don’t just drop them on the street and let the wind take them away.
If your local recycling does take polypropylene, then save any straws you come across. Make sure they’re completely clean before trying to recycle.
Place the straws into the larger plastic number 5 container, to avoid the small items getting lost on the conveyor belt.
These options represent the best you can do whenever you have a plastic straw. However, the better option is to avoid using straws altogether.
What To Use Instead Of Plastic Straws?
For many of us, plastic straws are a convenience, rather than a necessity. We have them with our drinks because we’re given them, but we don’t really need them.
If plastic straws suddenly disappeared, it wouldn’t have a huge impact on how we live our lives.
If you can, avoid using plastic straws at restaurants or with take out drinks. Ask for no straw when you order your drink.
Once you’re used to drinking without a straw, you’ll probably forget why you ever used them.
Or, look for dining establishments that have replaced their plastic straws with sustainable options such as paper.
Paper straws have come a long way from the weak options that turned soggy as soon as they touched liquid.
Modern paper straws are an efficient alternative to plastic.
But if you do need a straw to drink, or you just prefer your drinks that way, then the best option might be to invest in a reusable straw.
These are made from glass or stainless steel, and can be placed in the dishwasher and cleaned completely before using.
Handy to carry around when you might not know if you plan on ordering a drink that might need a straw!
Reusable straws are fairly new to the market, so expect to see growing options in the years to come.
What’s The Problem With Plastic Straws?
Plastic straws can seem pretty innocuous, and many of us have used hundreds of them without ever thinking about it.
This is part of the problem. Single use plastics have integrated into our lives in a way that they’re almost impossible to avoid.
And when we don’t realize we’re using them, it’s easy to not notice how often we’re throwing them away.
It’s estimated that 500 million plastic straws are thrown away every single day in the U.S. alone.
That’s a staggering amount, especially as in most of those cases, the plastic straw wasn’t necessary.
And while polypropylene can be recycled, it doesn’t happen often. The reason for this is that it’s very cheap to manufacture.
So, rather than making the effort to recycle, companies will just make new plastic, and continue to exacerbate the problem.
This is an issue because plastic doesn’t biodegrade. It does break down, but only into little pieces known as microplastics.
These microplastics are then in the environment, and can end up ingested by everything from tiny invertebrates to mammals.
This poses both physical and toxicological risks to the organisms. Just recently, microplastics were found in human blood for the very first time.
That’s how much of a problem these objects and materials have become.
Plastic straws are not recyclable in household waste and aren’t accepted in many recycling facilities.
Even if your local recycling does accept polypropylene, tiny straws won’t always be recognized and sorted.
The best thing to do is avoid using plastic straws as much as possible.