How Big a Difference Can Paper Straws Make to the Environment?

Single-use plastics have been posing serious problems for our planet since quite some time now, and the famous images of cluttered coastlines and suffering sea life stand as a testament to that. People all over the world are now understanding this fact and thankfully, governments are now beginning to act too. With single-use plastic ban being implemented in several countries, it is high time that businesses need to find an alternative; one that is acceptable to consumers while doing good for the environment too. 

Among all of the alternatives to plastic straws – from reusable metal and glass to disposable materials – biodegradable paper straws are the only option that provide concrete ecological benefits without sacrificing these important aspects of the user experience. However, what positive impact do they actually have on the environment? Here are four ways in which paper straws truly make a difference:

Paper straws reduce the threat of ocean trash.

Researchers estimate that 8 million tons of plastic material are added to the ocean every year. While half of the plastic produced is single-use – including straws, cotton buds, and cigarette buds – these items make up over 89% of ocean plastic. More importantly, this is not biodegradable and studies project that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. Switching to paper straws will not fix the problems of trash that is already in the ocean. However, it can help us to stop adding more litter to the ocean. According to a study, plastic straws are the 7th most commonly collected waste items on beaches worldwide. Therefore, by turning to straws that are biodegradable and break down naturally, we can prevent this blight on our landscapes and ecosystems.

Paper straws reduce microplastics at sea and on land.

A highly important yet commonly overlooked fact about ocean plastics is that only 1% of it is actually visible. The whopping 99% is either too deep or too minute to be seen by the naked eye. We call these microplastics; and they have unfortunately reached some of the most remote parts of the world. 

In the ocean, these microplastics are ingested by sea life, thus harming individual creatures and affecting food chains largely. For instance, Zooplankton consume microplastics which prevents them from receiving sufficient nourishment from actual foods and hampers their ability to grow and reproduce. And as a result, the fish, whales, and other animals that eat plankton do not receive the food they need. On the other hand, paper straws disappear completely in a matter of months. This means that they may not enter the sea at all and even if they do, they would not cause harm when ingested. This can help ensure that everything in the food chain remains balanced.

Paper straws are non-toxic.

It is widely known that plastics may take as long as a thousand years to disappear completely. More concerningly, research suggests that while this process of breaking down is slow, plastics release chemicals into their environment as they do so. Plastics in the ocean, for instance, are thought to release bisphenol A, a chemical known to interfere with the hormones of animals if ingested. Similar chemicals are released by plastics that go to the landfills and local soil systems, rivers etc. can thus suffer as a result. When they are made from organic materials, such as paper, biodegradable straws do not release toxic substances. Rather, their chemical structures are easily digested by bacteria and will easily return to organic matter. When pollution from decomposing plastic can be up to 23 times as bad on land as it is in the ocean, the switch to biodegradable alternatives can make a huge difference.

Transitioning from plastic to paper reduces your carbon footprint.

Plastic production is among the most greenhouse-gas heavy industries in the world, notorious for firstly; being energy intensive and secondly; being produced from fossil fuels which are known to release greenhouse gases such as methane and ethylene as they degrade. So, the problem is not limited to plastic’s physical effect on sea life and their chemical impact on the earth. Instead, throughout their entire lifecycle, from manufacturing to its disposal, plastic contributes to global warming. As a result, adopting paper straws can help businesses partake in the battle against climate change, too. Unlike fossil fuels, paper straws are made from an alternative resource that is more ecologically sound – natural forests. As a result, these biodegradable straws can be carbon neutral and avoid such a dependence on non-renewable resources.

Keeping all this plausible impact in consideration, it is also important to remember that paper straws will not save the world alone. Only 1% of ocean’s litter is made up of these plastic products. However, as part of a larger move away from single-use plastics, these straws can certainly make a considerable difference to the health of our planet in the long run!

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