Are Plastic Straws Recyclable?

Hand holding recycling sign
The good ol' plastic straw, we all use them, but should we? Whether it's with your Friday knock-off Aperol Spritz or your freshly curated smoothie on a Saturday morning, single use plastic straws/drinking straws have become far too rampant in society. In our backyard alone, Aussies use nearly 10 million plastic straws a day, which equates to roughly 3.5 billion a year! It's time to make a change. Read on to learn everything you need to know about plastic straws, and what we can do to be the change we want to see.

Table of contents

  1. What are plastic straws made of?
  2. Why are plastic straws bad?
  3. Can you put plastic straws in the recycling bin?
  4. What can you do with plastic straws?
  5. What alternatives are there to plastic straws?
  6. Let's un-plastic the planet

What are plastic straws made of?

Your atypical drinking straw is made from a plastic material called polypropylene (Type 5) and is one of the most commonly produced plastics in the world. The reason for polypropylene being so popular comes from it's molecular makeup - it can be manufactured into what people call a living hinge, which essentially means it can be pressed extremely thin without losing any of its strength - perfect for drinking straws and avoiding unnecessary spillage. However the caveat to polypropylene lies right there in it's perceived benefit - in many ways it's too strong.

Why are plastic straws bad?

Plastic straws in grass

Without meaning to sound like the ultimate doomsayers, drinking straws made from plastic are entering our waterways, oceans and beaches at a rapid rate, impacting the ecological foundations that marine life and the wider environment rely on to live.

How would you feel if you saw Nemo or Dory choke on the drinking straw made from plastic that you used with your afternoon Spritz?

Sorry, we know it doesn't paint a pretty picture but unfortunately that's the plastic reality we find ourselves in. Although plastic straws are technically a hard plastic, when they find their way to a recycling facility for the sorting process they more often than not end up falling through the cracks of the recycling machines conveyor belts because of their size, or lack thereof.

Now think of the 3.5 billion plastic straws that we produce each year, and then try and picture a large percentage of them floating throughout our oceans for hundreds of years refusing to break down, taking out marine life and damaging ecosystems and the environment.

It sucks to think about. So, what are some of the things we can do to stop it?

Can you put plastic straws in the recycling bin?

First, we need to say this, technically you can put straws made from plastics in your yellow recycling bin, but as we've just said, if you do, the likelihood of it completing the recycling process is very slim. Are straws recyclable? For all intents and purposes, no, they should not go in your recycling bin.

So, when someone asks you the question "are straws recyclable?" you reply with …"No, and better yet, just don't use them at all!"

Easy enough to remember right? There are plenty of other plastics in your home that you can recycle, and if you need a refresher or would like to know more check out our ultimate guide to recycling in Australia.

So, if they can't be recycled we may as well boycott them right? Well, it depends. We actually analysed the best eco-friendly straws in a recent journal entry. But we also understand that when a particular type of product holds upwards of 99% of the production market, as plastic straws do in this instance, people need the relevant information to understand why plastic straws are so prevalent.

  1. They're incredibly cheap to produce and licensed venues have a bottom line to meet
  2. People (and Aussies in particular) love a drink
  3. Many people are still blissfully unaware of plastics impact on the environment

With this in mind, if you do have plastic straws that need disposing of, what's the best way to do it?

What can you do with plastic straws?

According to an article by waster.com.au, there is a technique that people can use called the Repackaging Method. It involves bundling some drinking straws made from plastic into a container made from the same type of plastic (Type 5 polypropylene, but not bags!) that will prevent the package from falling off the recycling sorter, thus letting the straws be recycled.

But this should only be considered as a last resort, like in the instance of a special occasion where you some friends over and need many straws for a milestone birthday or something similar.

Ultimately, we recommend to simply say no to plastic straws, or use BYO reusable straws instead.

What alternatives are there to plastic straws?

Left hand holding plastic straws, right hand holding alternatives

There are a number of eco-friendly straws available to you which are just as functional to use as plastic drinking straws, but they have the added benefit of lasting some months to years depending on the materials.

We’ve listed several plastic straw alternatives in order to help you un-plastic your life. Hopefully after reading you understand the full picture and can progress on your journey to zero-waste.

Bamboo straws

Bamboo drinking straws

Bamboo straws are wooden-style looking drinking straws made from, you guessed it, organic bamboo. Bamboo material has many advantages due to its innate ability to grow quickly without the need for pesticides or other harmful chemicals.

To produce these particular drinking straw items, a piece of organic bamboo is cut into circa 20cm pieces before being washed and packed. The production process is close to carbon-neutral and requires little to no machinery depending on the manufacturer.

You can reuse them for up to a year when looked after properly and you can compost each drinking straw once end of life is reached.

Here’s a link to our pack of bamboo drinking straws which arrive with a complimentary cleaning brush in plastic-free packaging.

Tip: Store your bamboo straws in a suitable carrying case like organic cotton.

Paper straws

What comes to mind when you think of paper straws? We know what you're thinking, are McDonald's straws recyclable? Well, according to a report by Channel 7, no they are not. But not because the materials aren't recyclable, it's actually because the thickness of the paper straws makes them difficult to process.

In all seriousness though, many paper straw products are recyclable, and in many cases they can be composted also. If you choose to purchase a paper straw item just be careful to look at the label and confirm there's no plastic coating involved in the manufacturing process of the paper.

Metal straws

Metal drinking straws in carry bag

A solid option to drink in an environmentally friendly way is by using metal straws, or as they're also known, stainless-steel straws. The biggest advantage to metal straws is that they literally last forever, that is of course, permitting you can keep them clean and well looked after.

An added benefit to metal straws is that they absorb some of the coolness of your drink right through to your mouth and as Aussies, who doesn't love that?

But let's get real, metal straws don't end up in the ocean and when you're ready to dispose of them, metal straws can be recycled and repurposed to create more straws or other metal products. 

Glass straws

Glass drinking straw in cup

Glass straws are typically made of Pyrex, which is a low-thermal-expansion borosilicate glass used for laboratory glassware and kitchenware.

In our humble opinion, the best aspect of Pyrex is that it's difficult to crack and product designers can create beautiful, aesthetically colourful glass straws for you to sip from.

Drinking straws made from glass are also dishwasher safe and work great for thinner liquids.

These guys definitely fit into the environmentally friendly category but unfortunately the nature of the material means these straws are not biodegradable or recyclable.  

Let's un-plastic the planet

We all want to be recyclers right? When you consider that 91% of plastic isn't recycled, the first step to being more eco-minded is by ridding ourselves of any plastic items that cannot or are incredibly difficult to recycle, whether that be straws, bottles, containers, or any other plastic item. And if you cannot live without your drinking straws that's okay, because as we've highlighted in this blog, there are plenty of eco-friendly alternatives that aren't made from plastic.

Ultimately we recommend not consuming straws and other products. Conscious consumerism will help us reduce consumption and markets will adjust. Though if you do feel you need an eco-friendly alternative straw, we would recommend choosing bamboo straws as a priority due to their incredibly low carbon footprint. Bamboo drinking straws are bloody awesome and super easy to clean if you have warm water and a cleaning brush.

We all have a part to play in creating a more sustainable and ecologically vibrant environment for both ourselves and for the many generations that will come after us. At Ecoy, you know we want to un-plastic the planet, so, look to reduce your use of plastics wherever possible.

Switching to bamboo products is a fantastic starting point!

Sources

  • National Geographic, Here's how much plastic trash is littering the earth, Laura Parker, 2018
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Waste Account, Australia, Experimental Estimates, Reference Period: 2018-19 Financial Year
  • Waster.com.au, How to recycle plastic drinking straws; An effort to save the Earth, Ian Guenn Tayao, 2019

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