Biodegradable straws offer the best of both worlds. They make sipping beverages easier and are eco-friendly. But what are biodegradable Straws made of?
We love drinking using straws. In addition to the convenience, they offer numerous advantages. Homo sapiens have been using them for thousands of years. The earliest known use of the straw can be traced to 3000 B.C., when the people from the Sumerian period drank beer through tubes of gold.
Straws are often used once and then sit and pollute the environment for eternity. Several types of biodegradable straws are available, including bamboo, wheat, and sugarcane. Paper straws are the most common biodegradable straws. They are abundantly available and serve their purpose well.
Straws are often considered more hygienic than drinking directly from a container. Take canned beverages, for example. You never know what the top of the can has been exposed to – not the best place to put your mouth.
Environmental experts believe that plastic is one of the biggest pollutants on our planet. We dump over 10 million tons of plastic into the ocean every year. This plastic stays in the oceans for several decades and severely affects marine life and the ecosystem. With increasing awareness about the harmful effects of plastic, the world is moving towards more environmentally friendly and biodegradable products. Eco-friendly straws, which are mostly single-use products, need to be made more common to mitigate their harmful effects.
Straws were biodegradable when they were originally launched. We are not referring to the gold straws from five thousand years ago; we are talking about the conventional straws that we use today.
In 1888, Martin Stone obtained a patent for his spiral winding machinery system, which was used to produce paper straws. The straws were coated with paraffin, which was planned to keep the paper stiff and straight as the liquid flowed through the tube. They were also quite narrow to prevent any lemon seed from lodging into it. These straws became immensely popular and developed into the plastic straws we know today.
As we continue to grow more conscious of our environment, we are starting to put in efforts to manufacture and use eco-friendly products that are not as harmful to our beloved planet. More than just a few options for biodegradable straws have emerged over the past few years.
Types of Biodegradable Straws
Biodegradable straws eliminate the use of plastic. They are not harmful to the environment because they break down and slowly disappear once thrown away. Biodegradation is a natural process in which microorganisms break down the product into naturally occurring substances such as carbon dioxide, water, and biomass.
Biodegradable straws are an excellent replacement for the one-time-use plastic straws that do their job for a few minutes and then sit idly in the environment, causing pollution. Traditional plastic straws cannot be broken down by organisms and often spend eternity in landfills or being blown from one place to another.
Wheat straws are usually 100% natural. They are made from wheat stems, which are a product that is considered waste during farming. Converting this waste into straws is an excellent method of conserving natural resources.
Wheat stems contain lignin, which is responsible for keeping the plant upright. The stems are processed to extract lignin from them to make bio-plastic. The processed plastic is then used to make straws. A bacterium found in the soil can easily decompose lignin without the need for any artificial products. The broken-down lignin is combined with sugar to produce a material that has properties similar to plastic. This material is then used to make straws and other plastic materials.
Wheat straws are designed to be used once, much like the conventional plastic straws. But when they are thrown away, they decompose naturally and disappear in a few weeks.
Bamboo straws are another form of biodegradable straws. They have excellent antibacterial properties and are based on 100% plant material. They usually have thick walls and cannot bend. These straws can be washed and reused, but they become contaminated with germs with repeated use and must eventually be composted or thrown away.
Bamboo stalks are hollow and can themselves be used as straws. This means that bamboo straws do not go through any rough processing. Once the correct bamboo plants are harvested, the stalks are cut to the required size and then sanded, etched, and filed.
Since bamboo straws are completely natural, chances are you will find them to be of different thicknesses in a pack.
Like wheat straws, cane straws are also made from byproducts that would normally go to waste. Once all the sugar has been extracted from the sugarcane, the fibers are processed to form pellets and molded to get straws.
These straws are reusable and can withstand several cycles of washing. Not all straws go well with all types of drinks. But cane straws work for cold, hot, and even thick beverages. They are biodegradable and can easily be put in compost or thrown away so that they end up in landfills.
As we all know, a huge amount of plastic straws get dumped and end up in the ocean. These straws are harmful to marine creatures and can significantly impact the ecosystem. Seaweed straws might be a hard find as they are still a developing technology, but they are one alternative that the oceans will thank you for.
These straws are manufactured using seaweed and other naturally occurring materials and are colored with natural algae pigment, another naturally occurring substance. They feel like traditional plastic straws but decompose at a much faster rate. They start to turn soft only eighteen hours after being in the water.
Paper straws are becoming increasingly common with increasing awareness regarding the negative effects of plastic. They are much better than plastic straws when it comes to biodegradability and decompose much quicker.
Manufacturing paper straws is a slightly long process. These straws are made using three piles of paper, bound together with an adhesive using a core-winder. Different kinds of papers can be used to make straws, and material selection usually depends on the manufacturer and the application.
It is estimated that paper straws take around two months to decompose on land and six months in seas or oceans. These straws are much safer for animals as compared to traditional plastic straws. If an animal accidentally swallows a paper straw, it will most likely be digested in the digestive system. These straws do not have any adverse impacts on the food chain.
Benefits of Biodegradable Straws
In addition to the biodegradable straws being able to decompose in less time, they also offer other benefits.
Burning a plastic straw can produce dangerous chemicals and pollute the atmosphere. This means that they cannot be recycled. However, biodegradable straws hardly contain any toxins and can easily be recycled. Even if you choose to toss them into the bin, you will not have to worry about them sitting in landfills for generations, and they will soon decompose, making room for more trash.
Helping Marine Life
Every year, nearly fourteen million tons of plastic of different sizes are dumped into the ocean. These plastic pieces are a major threat to marine life. Thousands of seagulls, fish and other creatures are killed by choking on plastic every year.
With biodegradable straws, these problems get eliminated. Even if marine creatures were to ingest such a straw, it would probably decompose in the digestive system and not pose a threat to it or other creatures higher in the food chain.
Most biodegradable straws are manufactured using low-cost materials. They are quite cheap, and you will not have to spend too much if you choose to buy them in bulk. Consider selecting these straws instead of traditional plastic ones; your wallet and planet earth will thank you for your choice.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker