Paper or Plastic Straws?

As consumers, communities and governments push for an end to single-use plastic disposables, such as plastic straws. Many businesses are switching to paper products as an alternative. Although paper is considered by many to be the “better” option, it too has harmful environmental impacts. 

Firstly, paper straws are made from trees. Trees act as a carbon sink, temporarily storing carbon from the atmosphere, which reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, thereby lessening climate change. Plastic straws on the other hand are made of petroleum by-products, meaning they are made from materials that have already been extracted and processed for other purposes leaving a huge carbon footprint critical to our future and marine life. In contrast, paper straws must be made from fresh raw materials which translates to more deforestation and habitat damage.

Secondly, the production of paper straws is much more resource intensive in terms of energy and water usage. About 10% more energy is used to produce a paper straw versus a plastic straw, and about 4 times as much water. Although recycled paper can be used, it takes even more energy and water to go through the recycling process than virgin material, and the finished product is less durable (ie. “soggy” straws in drinks).

And finally, plastic takes over 200 years to break down making up 4% of waste as well as ending up in our oceans!

So when it comes to deciding between paper or plastic, the answer is neither.