Recently, more and more restaurants have been giving out paper straws instead of plastic to combat climate change and pollution. This raised the debate of whether or not paper straws actually achieving that goal or simply making the restaurant and consumer feel better
Most people assume that paper straws are inherently better for the environment because they are made out of paper, which is more biodegradable than plastic. However, as with most things in life, it’s not that simple.
Paper itself is biodegradable. Straws made of paper are not always this way. Paper straws can’t be recycled because of food contamination. However, plastic straws can under the right circumstances. This was demonstrated when McDonald’s switched to paper straws which, unlike their plastic predecessors, were unrecyclable.
Paper straws take more energy to produce and cause more fossil fuels to be burnt creating air pollution. Even though petroleum goes into making plastic, it turns out that making a paper bag consumes four times as much energy as making a plastic bag. This means that making paper consumes a good deal of fuel. This results in them costing roughly ten times the price of a plastic straw.
Please consider user experience; no one likes using paper straws. For one thing, they often dissolve in your mouth when drinking. This results in more than one paper straw being used per drink.
Considering the paper straw’s higher energy cost to produce, the sometimes inability to recycle them, and the discomfort of having them dissolve in your mouth as you drink, perhaps we should be sticking with plastic straws.