Compostable Straws: An Eco-Friendly Buyer’s Guide

PlantSwitch agave compostable straws

Plastic straws are becoming unfashionable in the United States and around the world. Pollution from plastic is becoming a massive problem as they choke our landfills and fill the ocean with tons of garbage every day. Sadly, there will be more plastic taking up space in the sea than fish by 2050. The public has been warned, and they have widely begun to adopt other means of drinking, whether it’s forgoing straws altogether or using compostable options or PLA straws.

Lately, many brands have begun banning plastic straws in an attempt to limit their effects on the environment. These companies have traditionally used thousands of straws every day in the hospitality, airline, and restaurant industries. Many city governments have also joined the fight to end the use of plastic straws entirely or face fines in the city. As more companies are switching to sustainable straw types, they often discount the fact that PLA straws present dangers themselves. 

Biodegradable Vs. Compostable Straws

There has been a growing movement to protect the environment from plastic pollution in recent years. With the countless new technologies and products, it’s easy to get confused in the sustainable jargon. What is the difference between biodegradable and compostable products? Can you compost something biodegradable? We’re here to break it down.

First of all, biodegradable products plainly mean that the product can break down into smaller pieces after it is thrown away. To clarify, a product that is solely labeled as biodegradable does not qualify as compostable. This difference relates to biodegradable products’ inability to provide nutrients to the soil after it has broken down into smaller fragments. In this way, some biodegradable products can leach leftover chemicals and metals into the ground, contaminating the environment.

In comparison, for a product to be compostable, it has to decompose into organic materials that can go on to nourish soil successfully. Composting can be done at a proper composting site or at home with the appropriate care. Likewise, it’s essential to know what materials can and cannot be composted before attempting the process on your own. Generally, compostable materials consist of particular organic food scraps, paper products, coffee grounds, and even tea bags.

Compared to biodegradable wares, compostable products prove the more sustainable option.

Colorful assorted PLA straws in a cup
Colorful assorted PLA straws in a cup

What Are PLA Straws?

While businesses and the public think they are making the best choice by switching to PLA straws, that may not be the case at all. PLA (polylactic acid) straws are made from the plant material and are better for the environment than straws made from petroleum and plastics, but are they the best choice for the environment? There are some things you should know about PLA straws before you can make the decision yourself to use them or go for another option.

PLA straws are a corn-based bioplastic alternative to plastic straws that are compostable and “biodegradable.” Resembling the feel and look of single-use plastic straws, PLA straws are typically manufactured from naturally occurring sugar cane and cornstarch. Despite PLA straws being a better option than petroleum-based plastic straws, evidence shows they may not be the best option overall.

Related: The Best Sustainable Straws and Cutlery For Businesses

Can You Compost PLA Straws?

You can’t simply throw your PLA straws in your home compost. To break down PLA straws, you need access to commercial or industrial composting, which can be difficult to find in the U.S. These facilities will be able to heat the material to above 140 degrees for over a week. After this process, they can be put into industrial composting to begin the decomposition process. This is not the most environmentally friendly option, and there aren’t many composting locations that can compost PLA straws.

Looking for straws and other products you can compost at home? Take a look at our items that are better for the environment and easier to dispose of. 

Are PLA Straws As Bad As Plastic Straws?

PLA straws are not the best choice for the environment. In fact, decomposition without the specific process above is nearly impossible. They can’t be composted at home and throwing a PLA straw away is almost identical to tossing a plastic straw. PLA straws are also as dangerous as plastic when it comes to threatening ocean life. Fish and other marine animals will consume the straws, which can often lead to fatality.

Do Most Consumers Know The Danger of PLA Straws?

Unfortunately, no. Most consumers think they are doing a great favor to the environment by using the alternative to plastic. However, this is only better for the environment if they are composted via the specific specialized process above. Most people will throw them away or toss them in the recycling bin expecting that they will naturally decompose wherever they go. If they aren’t placed in a special industrial composting bin, they will not reach the facilities that can properly compost them. These bins are an extremely rare option, so most of the straws never make it. Consumers aren’t educated on this, which is a big problem for environmental advocates.

Related: A Better Straw Option For Home Composters

PLA Makes Life More Difficult for Recyclers

Recycling facilities face a problem with PLA straws as most consumers will mix them in with their normal plastic recycling. PLA has a lower melting temperature which leads to problems in the plastic recycling process. If businesses and restaurants were to dispose of PLA straws properly, they would need to sort them separately to go to a commercial composting facility (which will cost money). The reality is that these businesses often won’t go to the trouble of sorting and preparing straws for proper disposal. Businesses often operate extremely quickly with no time (especially for servers) to sort everything perfectly. The best solution will be one that users can throw away or compost hassle-free.

Brightly colored assorted candy cane paper straws
Brightly colored assorted candy cane paper straws

What Are Better Options For The Environment?

Fortunately, there are many better options for the environment that individuals or businesses can consider before using potentially harmful products like PLA. Of course, not using a straw is always a good choice for the environment, but sometimes the convenience and comfort of straws is what we are used to. People have come to expect businesses to provide straws with their drinks, and plastic has been the cheapest option traditionally. However, businesses can make the ethical and responsible decision to switch to other materials that aren’t as difficult to break down. 

Looking for a straw option that works better than paper but is completely compostable? Take a look at our natural agave straws

Other plastic straw alternatives do not work as well. Paper straws don’t work as well because they become soggy and hard to use. Straws made from wheat or avocado materials may pose problems to those with allergies. However, options like agave straws from PlantSwitch are perfect for providing an environmentally friendly and biodegradable opportunity. Agave straws are an affordable, durable, and easily compostable option for home users and businesses alike. Agave straws are a sustainable product that completely removes the need for plastic while providing a much easier disposal option.

Since businesses face limited time and recycling options, agave straws can make life easier while sending the right message to consumers. PlantSwitch has disposable agave straws and cutlery that will put your business ahead in terms of sustainability, and your customers will notice your dedication to the environment. PLA and paper have become common alternatives, but we can begin to tackle the plastic problem with better solutions thanks to new materials.

Related: Agave-Based Cutlery and Straws To Replace Your PLA or Plastic

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