The European Parliament has voted to ban single-use plastic cutlery, cotton buds, straws and stirrers as part of a sweeping law against plastic waste that soils beaches and pollutes oceans. As a bar tender, a restaurant owner or and non-food manager you may be looking or searching for new sustainable alternatives and solutions. But what are the differences between each type of straw and how do you select the best option that works for you?

The types of eco-friendly straw solutions

First of all, it is important to recognise the different kind of eco-friendly alternatives to plastic straws: disposable straws, reusable straws and edible straws. Disposable straws are straws that you use only once and toss in the bin after use.

Types of disposable eco-straws

wheat/straw straws, paper straws, PLA straws, edible straws, corn starch straws 

Advantages

- Can be tossed in the bin after use, no need to clean them

- No waste of water or cleaning products 

- No issues with hygiene 

- Customers can choose from a multitude of different eco-friendly options 

- Straws are available in different colours and sizes

- They often make your drinks look beautiful and fancy

 

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of sustainable single use straws differ per type. This has to do with materials, production process and recycling processes. 

Wheat/Straw straws: 100% natural straws that grow in nature, can it get any more natural? They are strong, have a fine structure and do not contain gluten. With their golden shine they also make every drink look nice. Straw straws are a good alternative to plastic straws, but are not suitable for milkshakes and smoothies because the diameter is not wide enough.

Paper straws: often colourful, with coloured stripes or bamboo prints, they definitely make your drinks look festive. However, they often get soggy before you have even finished your drink, and leave a nasty paper taste in your mouth. Additionally, they are not suitable for hot drinks. And it is not always clear if the paper is sourced from by-products of trees that were cut down for other purposes or if the trees are specifically cleared for the paper straws. 

PLA straws: they have a strong structure and are as user-friendly as plastic straws. Although PLA straws sound perfect, they do have clear disadvantages: they look so much like plastic that people often confuse them for plastic straws. Also, although they are compostable, they require to be placed in industrial compost installations at 60 degrees Celsius to do so. If they end up in nature they will generally never decompose because of the weather conditions in most countries, which makes them as polluting as regular plastic straws. Also, depending on the systems in your city, not all compost companies want PLA straws because they delay the whole composting process. PLA straws often aren't used as compost after all, but end up being burned together with other materials.

Edible straws: designed to eat and disappear! Edible straws are available in different tastes and colours. Pasta straws for example look very natural. Sugar straws are available in fruity tastes and go well with specific drinks. The diameters are wide enough for every kind of drink. However, edible straws dissolve in your drinks after some minutes, and they often contain gluten or large amounts of sugar. Much like paper straws, they can generally not be used in hot drinks. There is one edible straw that we've all been waiting for: the seaweed straw. We're looking forward to try those out!

Corn starch straws: the name might be misleading because these are actually PLA straws! Corn starch is converted into a polymer (PLA) and therefore carries the same disadvantages: they require a specific compost facility to properly break down and may pollute the environment if they end up there or are thrown into the general garbage.

Disposable Straws Wheat Straws / 
Straw Straws
Paper Straws PLA Straws Edible Straws
100% Natural x
100% Compostable x x x x
100% Biodegradable x x x x
Made from by-products Yes ? ? ?
Does not get soggy or dissolves x x
Natural. Not Coated. x x
Cannot be confused with plastics x x x
Sugar-free x x x
Gluten-free x x x some are, some are not
Price €€ €€ €€€

 

 

Reusable straws are the ones that can be used multiple times, sometimes even for a lifetime.

Types of reusable eco-straws

metal straws, bamboo straws, glass straws, silicone straws

Advantages

- Designed to be reused and therefore leave no waste 

- Customers can choose from a multitude of different eco-friendly options 

- Straws are available in different colours and sizes

- They often make your drinks look sophisticated

- They can be carried around to be used on-the-go

- Reusable straws are very sturdy 

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of sustainable reusable straws differ per type. This has to do with materials and the production process.

However, there is one disadvantage that equally applies to all reusable straws: they need to be properly cleaned. That does not only take time but also cleaning materials like a long, thin brush and cleaning agents. Especially for businesses like restaurants, bars and hotels it can be too much of a hassle to ensure proper hygiene of reusable straws, which is why they often opt for disposable ones. 

Metal straws: no straw says "sophisticated!" quite like a metal straw. Customers can buy the classic version in silver or fancier ones in different colours that come with a case or are collapsible for the ultimate pocket-size straw. However, metal transfers heat and thus these straws may not be suitable for hot or very cold drinks. Additionally, some people report a metallic taste when using straws made from metal. 

Bamboo straws: these straws have a nice, natural feel, are biodegradable and available in different sizes. They give every drink a beautifully rustic look. Unfortunately, cleaning can be a big issue with straws made from bamboo. For one, they are not dishwasher-safe. If they are not properly cleaned and dried, they easily rot and develop mould, posing a real threat to hygiene. Additionally, their life-span is more limited than that of metal, glass or silicone straws and some users are disturbed by the slightly woody taste.

Glass straws: suitable for both hot and cold drinks, these straws have a very smooth mouth-feel and elegant look. Because they are see-through, users are able to tell if the straw is clean. However, the material is less eco-friendly than metal. Since glass is breakable, these straws are not suitable for children or travelling. 

Silicone straws: travel-friendly, bendable and dishwasher safe - these straws seem to have it all. However, they are made from a synthetic polymer and some people do not opt for these straws due to perceived health and environmental risks, especially when the straws are exposed to heat. On top of that, the straws may cave in when sucking too hard, which can be a bother to some.

 

Reusable Straws  Metal Straws Bamboo straws Glass straws Silicone straws
Natural x
Dishwasher safe  x x
Do not break x x x
No unpleasant taste x x
Hot & cold drinks x x
Travel-friendly  x x x
Price €€€ €€ €€€ €€

NO MORE PLASTIC DISPOSABLES. EVER. AGAIN.

Every day we use millions of plastic disposables around the globe. Why continue with that when there are millions of straws growing in the nature every year?

Join the #StrawbyStraw community!

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