When having a drink, have you ever stopped to wonder if plastic straws are recyclable? It might seem harmless to use a plastic straw with your favourite cocktail or soft drink. But you should consider whether your straw is recyclable and where it may end up.
Can you be eco-friendly while using a plastic straw? Your intuition might say that because they are plastic, straws can be recycled and used again. Unfortunately, the reality is that most straws are designed for a single-use and aren’t 100% recyclable.
In the United States alone, Americans use 390 million straws every day. That adds up to more than 142 billion straws per year. If all of these straws are used only one time and aren’t recycled, then more than 390 million straws are entering our ecosystem on a daily basis!
Of course, it isn’t just people who are experiencing the problems of plastic straws. Most of their downsides are experienced by the ocean and marine creatures such as baby sea turtles.
More than 8 million tons of plastic goes into the ocean every year and much of that plastic is particularly harmful to marine life. They are a big contributor to plastic pollution. Beach clean up groups report that plastic straws and plastic bags are some of the most common found items found during beach clean ups.
Plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles and countless fish. Plastic is often mistaken for food and ingested by sea life, causing them severe harm. In fact, it is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
So, let's jump to your pressing pressing question, are plastic straws recyclable?
Can straws be recycled?
Plastic straws are made of type 5 plastic, or known as polypropylene. Type 5 plastic is normally recyclable. However, as plastic straws are so small and flexible – they often cause difficulty in large industrial-grade recycling machines.
Most recyclers won’t accept type 5 plastic but even if they do, many recyclers will export these straws to landfills, where they remain today.
Part of the reason plastic straws are disregarded so easily by recyclers is that type 5 plastic is cheap and easy to produce. It’s more cost-effective for manufacturers to use new plastic rather than taking part in the recycling process.
What’s even scarier than knowing they can’t be recycled is understanding that plastic straws don’t naturally biodegrade.
Instead, they break down into micro plastics which stay in our ecosystems forever. Scientists recently found a huge amount of micro plastic in a piece of Arctic Ocean sea ice that was deeply embedded inside an ice block. This discovery was described by these scientists like a punch to the stomach, as it showed just how deeply plastic is impacting marine life.
So, are plastic straws recyclable? No, plastic straws are not recyclable.
Plastics straws are not recyclable
Plastic straws cannot be recycled. They are too lightweight and small, making it difficult to be processed through sorting screens and recycling sorting machines. Often they slip through the mechanical recycling sorter and end up in the bin.
As plastic straws are non-recyclable, they can either end up in landfills or polluting our marine environment and oceans. This poses a major threat to our wildlife and ecosystems.
Plastic straws can take up to 200 years to decompose. Their minutes of convenience can have consequences lasting lifetimes.
What are plastic straws made of?
Plastic straws are made from Type 5, also known as polypropylene. This plastic is normally recyclable.
However, as plastic straws are so small and flexible – they often cause difficulty in industrial-grade recycling machines. In addition, small items like straws often fall out of these machines.
How do you dispose of plastic straws?
If you have built up a collection of plastic straws, you can attempt to repackage them into a type 5 plastic container. By bundling them together, you can reduce their chance of getting lost during the recycling process. However, they may get thrown out by workers sorting through the recycling, so it is not preferred.
What straws can be recycled?
There are many plastic straws alternatives available which can either be recycled or composted.
Bamboo straws are completely compostable. So don't worry about adding them to your recycle bin. This is even better than recycling as recycling takes lots of energy and resources. After you are finished with your bamboo straws, you can put them back into nature or in your compost to break down naturally.
Not all glass straws can be recycled as they are made from different types of glass. They must also be separated for recycling. It is best to check with the supplier before purchasing or disposing of the glass straw.
Metal can be recycled. However, often metal straws cannot be added to your recycle bin. These straws will need to be transported to a special metal recycling facility. If you are unsure, it's best to contact your local government or council to check with them.
Paper straws are generally non-recyclable. This is for many reasons such as being lined with non-recyclable plastic or because they can contaminate recycling loads. Some paper straws can be composted. However, you will need to check with the supplier to see whether their straws contain any plastic which would impact the break down process.
What can you do?
Our best advice is to refuse single use plastic altogether. However, it can be easier said than done. If you need to use type 5 plastics, first check with your local recycling company and see if they accept type 5 plastics.
While plastic straws still are used in many fast-food restaurants, there is an increasing amount of chains that are banning plastic straws. Starbucks, for example, is planning to stop its usage of all plastic straws by 2020.
Try compostable straws and reusable straws
There is a lot of research being completed to produce compostable plastic straws. These are plant-based and are either biodegradable and/or compostable. If you see these compostable plastic straws, it's best to check with the seller if they are home compostable or whether they have to enter public composting depositories. They depositories have strict compost facility conditions to break down particular materials. If they are home compostable, this is a much better option.
One larger step you can take is by committing to using reusable alternatives to plastic straws or by not using straws at all.
There are many different reusable straws that are made of glass, stainless steel and even bamboo. You can use these straws at home and take them with you on the go to also cut down on straw usage when you go out to eat.
Even though the world’s plastic problems are much larger than merely plastic straws alone, plastic straws are actually the seventh most collected waste item on beaches worldwide. A small piece of plastic can consumed by a marine creature can raise a creature's mortality rate.
So although refusing plastic straws may seem insignificant, its impact is huge. By refusing plastic straws, you are helping to support support a strawless ocean.
If you stop using plastic straws, you are contributing towards a better, more sustainable planet.
For the majority of us, single use plastic straws don’t add any value to our lives – so why not limit your use of this single use plastic as much as you can!
Pick the environment over convenience and #SkipTheStraw
Next time you are out, remember to tell your waiter "No straw, please". Try sparking a conversation with your watier about plastic pollution, and ask them the question "Are plastic straws recyclable?". This is a great opportunity to teach them about the challenges of recycling plastic straws and maybe they'd be willing to offer a compostable straw or reusable straw instead.
By taking small steps together, we will achieve great things. Share your #SkipTheStraw photos with us on Instagram, @theotherstraw and tag us to be featured!
Do you have any tips on living a life with less plastic? Tell us in the comments below!