The latest statistics from the EPA estimate that almost 28 million tons of plastic (56 billion pounds) end up in municipal city landfills every year. That’s a LOT of un-recycled plastic, and it doesn’t even count the plastic that ends up in privately-owned landfills.
To add to the waste, an estimated 14 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. Unlike landfill waste, ocean waste isn’t organized.
It’s there in our oceans, poisoning wildlife and destroying vital ecosystems. Countless sea creatures die every year after being entangled in or digesting this toxic plastic waste.
To counteract some of this waste, there’s a movement to switch to plant-based drinking straws.
These straws are 100% biodegradable and made from sustainable plant-based materials like bamboo, agave, and even corn! It may seem like a small step, but it can make a huge difference if everyone hops on board.
If you’re ready to make the switch, then you’ve come to the right place! Today, I’m going to show you the best plant-based straws as well as some of the best reusable straws, so you can do your part to keep single-use plastics out of our waterways!
What Are Plant-Based Straws Made Of?
Most plastic drinking straws are made out of a simple plastic called polypropylene. On average, polypropylene takes around thirty years to naturally degrade, which can be very problematic in the long run.
That’s not the only problem, though. Polypropylene production often releases cadmium into the environment. This is a highly toxic, carcinogenic metal that can kill plant and animal life if it’s leaked into waterways and soil surrounding the factories.
In the event that plastic straws are burned in an incineration facility, dangerous chemicals like dioxins and vinyl chloride are released into the atmosphere. As you can see, plastic straws are a lot bigger of a problem than most people realize…
In contrast, most plant-based straws fully degrade in less than three months, which is far more sustainable and far less toxic for the environment. So the next time you need a straw to keep that red wine from staining your white teeth, reach for the eco-friendly option!
Some of the most common materials used to manufacture plant-based straws include:
- Corn starch
Here’s a quick breakdown of each plant-based straw material, so you can decide which may be the best option for you.
|Plant-Based Straw Materials||Description|
|Bamboo||Bamboo is a sustainable, fast-growing crop. Its fibers are naturally tubular, making it the perfect material for manufacturing plant-based straws. Bamboo is strong yet flexible, which makes for a durable straw that won’t crack or break easily. Lastly, bamboo doesn’t have a strong taste, so you don’t have to worry about it affecting the flavor of the beverage you’re drinking.|
|Agave||Agave is a thick, fibrous succulent plant that’s grown in Mexico. It’s used to make tequila and the nectar is often extracted to make a vegan, plant-based sweetener. Agave straws are made using the leftover fibers from the tequila and agave sweetener industry. These fibers are flattened and then formed into straws. Agave straws are just as durable as bamboo straws and are an excellent alternative.|
|Paper||Paper straws were some of the first plant-based straws ever created. They’re made from thick, layered sheets of paper (which come from trees). They degrade incredibly fast, which is great for the environment. Paper straws are considerably cheaper than other plant-based straws, which is why they’re widely used in fast-food restaurants. However, they have one key drawback – they disintegrate quickly. If you let the straw sit in your drink for more than ten minutes, it gets soggy and nasty. Plus, paper straws can have a strange aftertaste that many people don’t appreciate.|
|Corn Starch||Corn starch is used to make a type of plant-based plastic called PLA (polylactic acid). Although it’s still a thermoplastic, PLA manufacturing involves far fewer chemicals and toxins than traditional thermoplastics like polypropylene. The main disadvantage of PLA plastic is that it takes around eighty years to naturally degrade, meaning that it’s still contributing to plastic waste.|
|Grass||The grass is one of the latest materials that’s being used to create plant-based straws! The process is similar to that used to create agave straws, as the grass fibers are ground and formed into thick, sturdy straws. Some grass straws use fresh grass to create a more flexible straw, while others use dried grass to create a sturdy, tasteless plant-based straw.|
|Sugarcane||Sugarcane straws are made using a sugarcane byproduct after the sugar itself is extracted. Once the sugars are extracted for refining and molasses processing, the leftover pulp is then formed into thin plant-based straws. One of the things I like the most about sugarcane straws is that they have a slightly sweet aftertaste, which makes them great for a wide variety of beverages.|
Interested in learning more? Check out this video by Jose Cuervo, the tequila company behind making the world’s first plant-based agave fiber straws:
How Long Does It Take For Plant-Based Straws To Decompose?
The length of time it takes for a plant-based straw to decompose depends on the material that’s used to make the straw. The most eco-friendly straws are made almost entirely from plant fibers and typically decompose within a few months.
However, some plant-based straws are made using plant-based thermoplastic like PLA (see the chart above). Although PLA’s manufacturing process is better for the environment, the plastic itself can take upwards of eighty years to fully degrade in a natural landfill.
That being said, PLA plastic wasn’t designed to be put in a landfill.
Optimally, PLA plastic straws would be put into a composting facility where high temperatures and enzymes would break the plant-based PLA down in as little as three months!
The material itself is quite eco-friendly, as long as it’s disposed of properly. That’s why you should still remember to recycle your straws, even if they are made from plant-based plastic!
Plant-Based Straws vs. Reusable Straws: What’s Better?
I would argue that reusable stainless steel straws are far better for the environment than plant-based straws. If cared for properly, a stainless steel straw can last a lifetime and is 100% recyclable if it’s ever thrown away.
The best thing that we can do to prevent landfill waste is to completely remove single-use plastic from our life, even if it is plant-based plastic.
That being said, reusable straws aren’t always an option. For example, if you’re hosting an event or own a restaurant, it helps to have a large pack of disposable straws.
They’re far more affordable than supplying everybody with their own stainless steel straw and are more sanitary (an important concern with the ongoing pandemic).
Are Plant-Based Straws Edible?
Most plant-based straws are not edible. For example, plant-based PLA plastic straws still contain plastic, which is toxic to ingest. Even purely plant-based straws like sugarcane or grass straws shouldn’t be eaten.
This is because they typically contain some type of glue or adhesive (most likely toxic) substance that holds the straw together and helps it keep its form.
That being said, there are some edible straws on the market. These are typically sold as novelty items, though, and typically dissolve within a few minutes after placing them into a liquid.
The Best Plant-Based Straws: Make The Switch
If you’re ready to reduce your plastic footprint, here are the best plant-based straws that you should consider switching to!
1) Greenprint Agave Fiber Cocktail Straws (link)
What They’re Made Of: Agave fiber
If you’re looking for a sustainable, 100% natural plant-based straw, then Greenprint’s Agave Fiber Cocktail Straws are an excellent alternative to single-use plastic straws! These straws are made using pure agave fibers leftover from tequila and agave nectar manufacturing.
This process is referred to as “upcycling” and is incredibly eco-friendly, as it uses the entire plant. This ensures that the water and resources that went into growing the agave plant are put to full use, limiting waste to a bare minimum.
It’s very similar to the process of turning plant waste into plant-based leather that’s used to make vegan leather belts and shoes.
Greenprint Agave Fiber Cocktail Straws are available in several different sizes, which makes them an excellent choice if you’re hosting an event or a party where there’ll be small cups. The available sizes are 5.75 inches (small cocktail straws) or 7.75 inches (standard straw size).
They’re available in two different colors: black and natural. The black straws look a lot more like traditional plastic straws, while the natural straws look a bit like cardboard and showcase the natural shade of the agave fibers.
One of the best features of agave fiber straws is their sturdiness! Greenprint claims that their agave straws stay sturdy for up to six hours while sitting in a drink.
I haven’t tested them out for that long, but I can personally attest that they’re sturdy and won’t get soggy even after an entire hour of sitting in a drink.
- Sturdy, so you won’t have to worry about them getting soggy for several hours.
- Made using all-natural upcycled agave fiber.
- 100% biodegradable.
- 100% plastic-free.
- No aftertaste.
- Available in two sizes: cocktail straw or standard straw.
- They’re a little pricey, so it’s better to buy in bulk.
2) EQUO Sugarcane Straws (link)
What They’re Made Of: Sugarcane fibers
If you’re looking for a plant-based straw that has a pleasant aftertaste, then EQUO Sugarcane Straws are an incredibly innovative alternative to plastic straws.
They’re perfect for drinking water, juice, or smoothies, as the sugarcane fibers provide a slightly sweet (but not overpowering) taste on the tip of your tongue.
While sugarcane is used to make PLA plastic straws, these straws are made using pure, raw sugarcane fibers.
This means that they’re 100% plastic-free and biodegradable, so you never have to worry about them ending up in a landfill! In fact, EQUO recommends throwing them in your garden after use, as they’ll naturally compost.
Like the agave fiber straws I mentioned above, these sugarcane straws are available in short cocktail straw size as well as standard 7.75-inch straw size. Additionally, EQUO also offers extra-wide sugarcane straws, which are perfect for drinking boba tea or thick smoothies.
They’re not quite as sturdy as agave fiber straws, but you can still count on these straws remaining rigid for about an hour before they start to soften. That’s more than enough time to finish a drink!
- Made using 100% all-natural, upcycled sugarcane fibers.
- 100% biodegradable and compostable (you can throw them in your garden).
- Provides a slightly sweet taste.
- Remain sturdy for at least one hour.
- Available in three sizes: cocktail, standard, and extra-wide boba straws.
- They don’t remain rigid for as long as agave straws.
3) Wymoon Biodegradable Bamboo Fiber Straws (link)
What They’re Made Of: Bamboo fiber
Compared to all of the other plant-based straws on the market, Wymoom’s Biodegradable Bamboo Fiber Straws are some of the most durable.
Due to the strong, moisture-resistant nature of the bamboo fiber, these straws remain strong and rigid for up to twenty-four hours before they start to soften.
Like the agave and sugarcane straws I mentioned above, these bamboo straws are made from 100% bamboo fiber. They’re plastic-free and toxin-free, which means they’ll naturally degrade in a landfill and can even be composted for your garden!
Another thing I really appreciate about these straws is that you can use them in hot beverages.
Unlike many plant-based straws that will quickly disintegrate in hot liquids, Wymoom Bamboo Straws can handle temperatures up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning you can use them for hot cocoa just as easily as you can use them for an ice-cold smoothie.
Last but not least, the straws come in recyclable paper packaging, so the entire product is waste-free. The only disadvantage is that these straws aren’t offered in multiple sizes.
- Extremely sturdy, and remain rigid for up to twenty four hours.
- No aftertaste.
- Can withstand hot beverages up to 180 degrees.
- Made from 100% bamboo fiber, so they’re biodegradable.
- Plastic-free and toxin-free.
- They’re not available in multiple sizes.
4) Ktob 100% Plant-Based Compostable Colorful Straws (link)
What They’re Made Of: PLA plastic from corn starch
If you’re looking for the closest option to a standard plastic straw, then Ktob 100% Plant-Based Compostable Colorful Straws are a more eco-friendly replacement.
For the most part, they look and feel just like typical plastic straws, they’re just slightly thinner and softer.
Unlike the other 100% plant fiber straws I mentioned above, these straws are made from plant-based plastic. PLA (polylactic acid) is a thermoplastic that’s made from processing corn starch. So, while these straws are technically plant-based, they’re not plastic-free.
When recycled properly, PLA plastic can be composted in as little as three months. However, if these straws end up in a landfill, they can take up to a hundred years to degrade. In my opinion, the “biodegradable” label is a bit deceiving, as many of these straws will inevitably end up in a landfill.
The main advantage of these straws is that they’re a lot more affordable than pure plant fiber straws. Also, since they’re more similar to regular plastic straws, you’ll get fewer complaints from your guests (which is why they’re typically used in restaurants).
- They look and feel similar to standard plastic straws.
- They’re relatively affordable.
- They’re made from plant-based PLA plastic from corn starch.
- They can be commercially composted within three months at a recycling facility.
- They contain plastic.
- They can take up to a hundred years to degrade in a landfill if they’re not recycled.
Alternatives: The Best Reusable Straw
Plant-based straws are great for hosting parties and events. However, the most eco-friendly option for personal use is reusable straws. These straws can be cleaned, washed, and reused for years at a time and eliminate single-use straw waste altogether.
5) Senneny Set of 5 Stainless Steel Straws with Silicone Flex Tips (link)
What They’re Made Of: Stainless steel
Senneny’s Stainless Steel Straws address the main complaint that most people have regarding reusable straws – the fact that most people hate the feeling of metal on their teeth.
These straws have a soft silicone tip on the top of each straw, so you don’t have to worry about chipping your teeth or tasting metal.
Plus, they include two straw cleaners, so you can always keep your straws clean and sanitary!
- Made with heavy-duty, food-grade stainless steel.
- Feature a silicone tip to prevent tooth chipping or a metallic taste.
- Affordable and reusable.
- Straw cleaners included.
- They’re large, so they’re not good for small cups.
6) Essbes Reusable Boba Straws & Smoothie Straws (link)
What They’re Made Of: Stainless steel
If you’re looking for an extra-large reusable straw that can handle large chunks of boba or extra-thick smoothies, then Essbes Reusable Boba Straws are a great alternative to keep in your kitchen!
I always bring one to the gym with me, so I can use it in my vegan post-workout shake.
This kit also comes with two straw cleaners included.
- Made with food-grade stainless steel.
- Come in awesome colors.
- Straw cleaners included
- Extra-large diameter makes them great for boba or smoothies.
- They don’t feature a soft silicone tip.
Conclusion – Are Plant-Based Straws Worth It?
Plant-based straws (especially pure plant fiber straws) are definitely worth the investment. They may be more expensive than plastic straws, but they’re far better for the environment and all but eliminate single-use plastic waste from straws.
Plus, they upcycle materials that would otherwise be wasted and thrown aside!
Did you know that switching to a vegan face wash is another great way to prevent toxic waste from entering our waterways? Keep on reading to see my favorite vegan face wash brands here!