10 million plastic straws are used daily in Australia.
This creates 42,000kg of daily waste which cannot be recycled.
According to Sustainability Victoria, when plastic straws roll down the conveyor belt at a recycling facility, they fall through the cracks and are sent to landfill or worse, ends up polluting our waterways and oceans.
Once plastic enters the ocean, it takes hundreds of years to break down and is ingested by tiny phytoplankton, our sea turtles, the largest of whales and everything in between.
Oh and you likely only spent a few minutes using it to consume your hot and cold drinks.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Say no or BYO reusable straws.
There are a number of eco-friendly straws available which are just as functional to use as plastic drinking straws with the added benefit of lasting months to years depending on the material.
We’ve listed several plastic straw alternatives in order of least carbon and energy efficient to most efficient based off research from HSU University. Hopefully after reading you can get the full picture and progress on your zero waste journey.
3. Stainless steel straws
A solid option to sip in an environmentally friendly way is through using stainless steel straws (often also called metal straws).
The strongest consideration for stainless steel straws is that they last literally forever.
Of course, permitting you can keep them clean and well looked after with cleaning brushes.
They also perform really well when drinking cold beverages and cold drinks as they absorb the coolness into the stainless steel straw.
You don't get this benefit with some of the other reusable straws we list shortly.
At the end of life, stainless steel straws can be recycled and repurposed to create more straws or other stainless steel products.
The application of stainless steel is incredibly wide and is used to build cities, vehicles, appliances and cutlery.
The one con with metal straws, according to Humboldt State University, is that they require the most energy of any eco-friendly straw to produce.
The stainless steel straw must be reused 149 times to be more carbon and energy efficient than the purchase and disposal of a plastic straw.
This puts stainless straws in last or position 3 on our list of eco-friendly straws.
2. Glass straws
Glass straws are next on our countdown coming in at #2.
They’re typically made of Pyrex which is a low-thermal-expansion borosilicate glass used for laboratory glassware and kitchenware.
The best part about Pyrex is it is difficult to crack and product designers can create beautiful, colourful glass straws for you to sip from.
Another perk, due to the transparency of glass, you can easily spot areas needing cleaning on the inside of the glass straw.
Just grab a cleaning brush and you're good to go.
They’re 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.
The glass straw must be reused 45 times to make up for both embedded energy and carbon dioxide compared to the purchase and disposal of a plastic straw.
1. Bamboo straws
Bamboo straws are wooden looking drinking straws made of you guessed it, organic bamboo.
Bamboo material has many advantages due to its innate ability to grow quickly and without pesticides or other harmful chemicals.
To produce the straws, a piece of organic bamboo is cut into circa 20cm pieces before being washed and packed.
They're BPA free and are very versatile in terms of what drinks you can enjoy.
The production process is close to carbon-neutral and requires little to no machinery depending on the manufacturer.
They last up to a year when looked after properly and you can compost each drinking straw once end of life is reached.
Bamboo straws must be reused 32 times to be more carbon and energy efficient than the purchase and disposal of a plastic straw.
This epic carbon efficiency earns them position #1 on our list of environmentally friendly reusable straws.
Tip: Store your bamboo straws in a suitably carrying case like cotton.
The HSU research extensively covered the number of straw uses required to payback CO2 for stainless steel, glass and bamboo straws relative to plastic.
Unfortunately, several other popular materials weren’t covered in the study.
We’ll share our thoughts on each so you can still get an idea of things to consider.
If you have infants, we would recommend using silicone straws as they can be bit without damaging your child’s mouth.
Silicone straws are also heat resistant and dishwasher safe.
Let’s chat on the cons, silicone straws are made of synthetic rubber and synthetic plastic polymer which is bad news as all hydrocarbons in the straws originate from fossil fuels and natural gas.
For these reasons, we would recommend staying away from silicone outside of child use.
Plant-based (PLA) straws
Straight off the bat, plant-based straws sound absolutely awesome but they have a few nasty secrets.
Made of fermented plant starch, these plant-based straws are often called "PLA straws".
Although PLA is biodegradable, it becomes another form of plastic that will take years to breakdown in landfills and the ocean.
According to sustainable tourism group, Sea Going Green, PLA straws need to be composted and heated to 60 degrees celsius and exposed to special digestive microbes so that they can biodegrade.
This is normally done at commercial composting facilities and not possible without serious equipment in an Australian home.
Finally, if you are using them, they will often break halfway through your drink and this is the main reason you don’t see many people using plant-based straws.
Plant-based straws just don’t perform the way you need them to.
The carbon footprint of making paper drinking straws is actually much higher than for plastic straws.
Given they’re single use, this mightn’t seem like a great option either.
Buuuut, paper straws are biodegradable and will break down within 6 months of disposal.
This definitely puts them ahead of plastic straws and earns paper straws a notable mention on our list of straw alternatives.
If you can’t live without reusable straws, we would recommend choosing reusable 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.
Thinking bigger, our throwaway culture has polluted close to 5 trillion microplastics in our oceans.
Straws play a small part in this contribution and to be frank, our main recommendation would be to not use any straws at all, even if they're reusable straws.
Every little decision to avoid single use plastic and to avoid excessive consuming will add up if enough of us collectively do it.
If you’re keen to keep learning, we wrote an article on 9 surprising plastic products you might use daily. Or if you would like to learn more about bamboo, you can read our blog on bamboo sustainability.
- Straws No More, Clean Up Australia (Accessed 2021)
- Plastic Straw Bans Won’t Solve Pollution Crisis, But It’s a Start, 1 Million Women (June 21, 2018)
- Plastic Straw Alternatives: 10 Eco-Friendly Choices, Green Business Bureau (October 2, 2019)
- Wildlife-friendly alternatives to plastic straws, Sustainability Victoria (Accessed 2021)
- HSU Straw Analysis, Appropedia (Accessed 2021)
- Better Alternatives Now, Ban List 2.0 (Accessed 2021)
- Drawing The Right Straw (January 23, 2019)
- The Ocean Cleanup (Accessed 2021)
- PLA “Biodegradable” Plastics: Too Good To Be True, Sea Going Green, July 13 2018