A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO STRAWS

UPDATED 7/6/2018

We get asked about straws a lot, so we decided to create a sorta-quick, practical guide for the industry. This is compiled from our own research, producer-provided information, and first-hand user experiences. It’s only here for you to weigh which product is best for your space (which will most likely differ based on location, waste disposal systems, style of service, budget, etc) and hopefully make the move away from single-use plastic.

Single-use plastic straws like to escape trash cans by taking flight in the wind and scattering themselves all over the planet, where they are among the top ten foreign items found in oceans. In their original state, they do very obvious physical harm to wildlife. Over time, they eventually break down into microplastics the size of sesame seeds. These act as tiny sponges for other pollutants and can get gobbled up by animals and embed themselves into the earth — it’s only a short journey from there to our dinner plates. Every single effort (and straw not used) adds up!
Yeah, it’s confusing to us too. Here is a quick rundown. Consult the resources page on our site for more info on these terms, labeling, and outside resources for further reading:

BIODEGRADABLE —  These items are capable of being broken down by biological means, such as microorganisms, light, marine environments, air, etc. This can happen pretty much anywhere! But understand that technically, almost all materials are biodegradable, since with enough time, some microorganisms can decompose almost anything. For instance, aluminum cans are technically biodegradable… they just take on average 175 years to degrade. // ASK exactly how long products take to biodegrade and if an item leaves behind toxins, contaminants and chemicals after it breaks down (there are no regulations regarding this).

COMPOSTABLE — This is a category within biodegradable. These items are able to break down into useful compost, a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land, but they require VERY SPECIFIC CONDITIONS only found in composting systems. No composting system? Well, then your compostable straws actually take 3-5 years (or longer) to break down in landfills and still pose a risk to oceans and wildlife. Are compostable straws recyclable? Not one bit! They actually contaminate recycling systems. // ASK if your composting facility accepts certain products, since each system differs.

RECYCLABLE — This means they are capable of producing fresh material from previously used material that was discarded after use. There is a limit to how many times a material can be recycled before they degrade too far to be useful. // Aren’t regular single-use plastic straws recyclable? Not so much. If you live in New York (and most other municipal districts), single-use plastic straws do NOT make it through the recycling process. In fact, they are so lightweight and unruly that they often get stuck in the machinery and negatively affect the whole process. // ASK your recycler if they accept certain items because each system differs. Also, check to see if they will accept food-contaminated papers because some recyclers do not (sorry, paper straws – luckily you biodegrade easily!).

Offering straws by request only is the cheapest and most effective way to cut down on your waste output. Aardvark Straws has a great resource page to help venues institute this practice.

A quick downloadable guide —

A more in-depth breakdown —

Labeled as AVOPLAST or BIOFASE

We spotted these for the first time at our favorite torta and coffee destination, Pal Real in Guadalajara. We were able to trace them back to Nostalgia de Mexico (based in California), an import company bringing these in from Mexico-based Biofase. They also make cutlery! Here’s the gist…

  • COLORS: Comes in a cream color because they are unbleached.
  • TEMPS: Suitable for hot drinks and are sturdy enough to handle high-visocity cocktails.
  • SIZES: For food service, 3.25″ and 10.25″ are available with a standard 5mm width. 8.5″ are available for retail.
  • STURDINESS: They don’t get soggy and can really take a good beating. If they sit in liquid for over 24 hours, you start to see the specs of biomass.
  • MATERIALS:
    • They are 60% processed avocado pit and 40% synthetic organic compounds. They will not share what this patented material will be since it is what holds the avocado agrowaste together but AvoPlast says “third party certifications support the quality of product.” NOTE: These third party certifications have NOT yet been provided.
    • Similar to bagasse, avocado seeds are agroindustrial waste (byproduct of an agricultural industry)
  • END OF LIFE: Biodegradable – The breakdown in a landfill, or just being thrown down to biodegrade, is 180 days or less. When either oxygen, water or heat are exposed to the cutlery and straws, the process begins. Of course, their “toughness” make them a hazard to wildlife during that time.
  • CARBON FOOTPRINT/ENERGY/WATER CONSIDERATIONS: They say, “The bioplastic from avocado seed has a lower carbon footprint than any petroleum based plastic, and even lower than most other compostable or biodegradable plastic on the market. This is due to these factors:
    • Biogenic carbon is absorbed by the avocado tree while growing.
    • It is reintroducing a material that previously had to be burned or buried to be disposed. (i.e. avocado seed was burned by guacamole or oil factories at the end of the production process).
    • The manufacturing process of avocado seed plastic requires less energy than other plastic production processes.
  • MADE: Mexico
  • PACKAGING: Standard lightweight cardboard. They sell unwrapped AND wrapped!
  • AVERAGE COST (larger size): For foodservice, around $.03/per unwrapped straw.

This is a newer product to the market. For requests on pricing, purchasing, or how to get it into your market, please go HERE and fill out the form. One of their representatives will reach out shortly.

Commonly seen labels include INGEO/NATUREWORKS/GREENWARE/WORLDCENTRIC/ECO-PRODUCTS

PLA is short for polylactide! It’s basically a lactic acid. I know, right?!

  • COLORS: Comes in a sheer grassy green, opaque black, clear, and clear with green stripe
  • SIZES: Most standard lengths and widths, including wider 8mm & 10mm widths, which are most suitable for high-viscosity drinks.
  • TEMPS: Can handle hot food and drinks up to 100 degrees F.
    • **Store at temperatures below 110 degrees F, away from hot surfaces, and direct sunlight
  • STURDINESS: They more or less feel like plastic straws.
  • MATERIALS: Usually made from plants like corns, cassava, etc, through the magic of science (fermenting these complex sugar chains to make a plastic-like material).
  • END OF LIFE: COMPOSTABLE. Sorta.
    • PLAs (and almost every other compostable product) require VERY SPECIFIC conditions for composting and in fact, are not recommended for home composting systems. If you are even lucky enough to have a municipal composting facility, you will need to ask if they accept these PLA products. If they do, they take between 50 days to 6 months (some websites lists 2-3 months).
    • Bad news is that a lot of facilities don’t accept them. That means that these will just end up in the landfill (or ocean), which can take 3-5 years (or longer). During that time, they could still entangle and physically harm wildlife.
    • Because they look so much like regular petroleum-based plastics, they sometimes get mixed in with the recycling and then contaminate plastic recyclables rendering them unusable.
  • CARBON FOOTPRINT/ENERGY/WATER CONSIDERATIONS:
    • PLA is mostly made from corn-derived sugars. The more corn we use, the more big companies rely on GMO. There is also the carbon footprint consideration of growing and making this agricultural product. We have also seen some arguments about using a food source to make a new product instead of using it to address world hunger problems. With all of that in consideration, corn-based PLA accounts for only .05% of corn being produced worldwide. Corn grown for cattle and fuel production accounts for most of the crop’s carbon footprint and by comparison, efforts to reduce in these sectors would have greater impact.
    • World Centric referred me to their partner NatureWorks (a large provider of Ingeo PLA), who has a unique carbon offsets program.
    • Overall, PLA production has a 40% lower carbon footprint than petroleum-based plastics!
  • MADE IN: World Centric makes their straws from NatureWorks Ingeo at a partner facility in Taiwan.
  • PACKAGING:  You can purchase these in typical commercial quantities and packaging differs between brands. They can come wrapped AND unwrapped (in various types of eco-friendly paper)!
  • OTHER: There is an argument that because it looks so much like plastic, it is making less of a statement. This may or may not matter to you, but worth considering.
  • AVERAGE COST (larger size): For foodservice, around $.09/per unwrapped straw.

brands include HAY! STRAWS/HARVEST STRAWS

Made from 100% wheat stems! They are gluten-free, in case you nerds were wondering.

  • COLORS: Unbleached for a nice off-white/light brown/HAY-color.
  • SIZES: Available in 8″ and 5″ but hover around the 3.6-5″mm width (all are a little different).
  • TEMPS:
    • Hay!Straws would not provide specific temps, but said “suitable for use in warm and hot drinks”.
  • STURDINESS: Probably not suitable for frozen drinks. They can split vertically under pressure.
  • MATERIALS:
    • This is another type of agrowaste made from the bagasse of wheat after the grain is extracted (leaving the reeds).
    • This new product provides an additional revenue source for wheat farmers.
  • END OF LIFE:
    • Hay!Straws is waiting to hear back from their Bio-degradibility tests.
  • CARBON FOOTPRINT/ENERGY/WATER CONSIDERATIONS:
    • Hay!Straws points out  that “Unlike paper straws, which go through a pulping process with added chemicals”, their products are minimally processed. Stalks are harvested, cut to length, and then thoroughly rinsed in sterile water three times to remove dirt or bacteria (which makes us curious how all these different products stack up in terms of water usage). No chemicals are ever used.
    • Since this is an agrowaste and plants aren’t grown specifically to produce this product, we won’t factor in the carbon footprint of wheat crops.
  • MADE IN:
    • Hay!Straws are made in South East Asia and South America.       .
    • Harvest Straws are made from non-GMO grains grown in Southern California.
  • PACKAGING: Eco-packaging includes unbleached kraft boxes and soy-based inks. No plastics.
  • AVERAGE COST (larger size): For foodservice, around $.03/per straw from Hay!Straws.

 

Most common brand is Aardvark (who is currently on a bit of a wait because they are so damn popular)

  • COLORS: all types! Patterns too! CUSTOM DESIGNS, OMG. Aardvark points this out about their products: “Aardvark only uses materials that are non-toxic, BPA-free, and elemental chlorine free. In fact, many straws made overseas claim to use safe inks, but the colorants and processes used to dry the inks are anything but safe. Aardvark doesn’t use un-safe dyes or materials in our straws, and we have had independent, 3rd party testing done to prove it.”
  • SIZES: Standard lengths and widths are available and go up to “colossal”. Aardvark makes “bendy” straws, too.
  • TEMPS: These will unravel in hot drinks pretty quickly. You can use them for frozen drinks
  • STURDINESS: Everyone has sipped out of a paper straw and it has proven divisive amongst imbibers. However, the options are getting better! We think Aardvark is the sturdiest out of the bunch though, which they define as using 30% more paper than competitors.
  • MATERIALS: GMO-free, Aardvark sources from a sustainably managed forest with “chain-of-custody procedures in place“.
  • END OF LIFE:
    • Biodegradable (breaking down in 45-90 days) and “Marine Degradable” (breaking down within 6 months)
    • Compostable (breaking down in 30-60 days)
    • Sometimes NOT Recyclable. Most processors will not accept food-contaminated paper (like the greasy inside of pizza boxes). Ask first!
  • CARBON FOOTPRINT/ENERGY/WATER CONSIDERATIONS:
  • MADE IN:
    • Most brands are made in China.
    • Aardvark is make in the USA.
  • PACKAGING: recycled paper boxes
  • OTHER: They have a stock sea turtle and strapless ocean design to bring marine life safety to the forefront of the issue.
  • AVERAGE COST (larger size): For foodservice, around $.09/per straw from Aardvark.

Available from tons of different companies and can be found all over the internet. Alibaba is probably your cheapest bet (but possibly with the least amount of accessible info on factory conditions).

**Like other reusables, we recommend these for tasting in a two-cup system at each station: 1) one marked clean; 2) one marked dirty. They can be rotated through the dishwasher. Another option, is to store them in a cup filled with sanitizer.**

  • COLORS: metal-y
  • SIZES: Come in standard straw lengths and generally 5-8mm width, but if you work with a flexible producer, they can pretty much do whatever you want. You can get them bent at an angle or with a spoon at the end.
  • TEMPS: Stainless steel gets hot when put in hot stuff, so use with caution. Some people complain about how they feel or taste when they get too cold.
  • STURDINESS: they. are. stainless. steel.
  • MATERIALS: Make sure they are made from food-safe stainless steel!
  • END OF LIFE:
    • You don’t! You keep them forever and ever, or at least until a guest steals them or they get bussed directly into a garbage bin and sent to the landfill where they live on FOREVER. Or worse, get buried in your dump catch and then thrown into the compost with all of those used mint sprigs and then contaminates the composting system.
    • Ultimately the ideal way to dispose of these is through recycling. However, do not forget that in NYC, only 52% of recyclable metal, glass, and plastics are diverted from landfills to recycling centers. That remaining 48% goes to the landfill or could end up floating around in oceans forever and ever and ever. What’s the solution here? We need to be better at recycling!
  • CARBON FOOTPRINT/ENERGY/WATER CONSIDERATIONS:
    • Stainless steel is the most carbon intensive material on this list to create.
  • MADE IN:
    • Probably China.
  • HOW TO CLEAN: They often come with or sell little tiny brushes to clean these. Usually the dishwasher alone does the trick, but if you are smoothie-ing it up then remember where you hid that brush.
  • PACKAGING: It’s all over the place, ranging from eco-packaging in recycled materials, to cloth, to um… plastic.
  • OTHER: You can brand the heck out of these so some companies might have these available with their logos printed on them.
  • AVERAGE COST (larger size): For foodservice, around $1-3/per straw. See the grid for a closer look at how costs average out over reusable items.

Available exclusively at Cocktail Kingdom.

**Like other reusables, we recommend these for tasting in a two-cup system at each station: 1) one marked clean; 2) one marked dirty. They can be rotated through the dishwasher. Another option, is to store them in a cup filled with sanitizer.**

  • COLORS: clear (soon to be available in black)
  • SIZES: Available in 8″ and a standard 5mm width. Black straws will soon be available in 8″ and 3.5″.
  • TEMPS: Buswell’s site says their PP withstands temps 32-210F
  • STURDINESS: Extremely tough and will hold up under dishwasher and high-volume circumstances.
  • CK says “Withstood 100 cycles of high-temp and low-temp industrial dishwashing with no visible defects, warping or cracking.”
  • MATERIALS: Polyproperene Plastics (PP)… same as regular plastic straws. These are just way denser and reusable.
  • END OF LIFE: Because these are significantly less light-weight than single-use plastic straws, they can make it through most municipal recycling systems (Hooray!). Do not forget that in NYC, only 52% of recyclable metal, glass, and plastics are diverted from landfills to recycling centers. That remaining 48% goes to the landfill or could end up breaking down in oceans or land areas, contributing to our micro plastic problem. It’s up to us to make sure our recyclables go to the recycling center so we can improve upon these numbers!
  • CARBON FOOTPRINT/ENERGY/WATER CONSIDERATIONS:
    • “PP, together with PE, consumes the least amount of energy during production and produces the lowest carbon dioxide emissions when compared to other plastics.”
    • Compared to paper? Plastics are generally a lower carbon footprint product to manufacture. And these are reusable! Thus, the carbon footprint goes way down. It’s complicated, for sure. Check out the image below to see how these can shake out.
      • It’s worth noting here that plastics aren’t necessarily evil (though our reliance on petroleum-based products is troublesome).
      • ***In a perfect world, when reusable items meet their end… “A product with the longest life and most harmless end would be one that can be recycled, recycled, recycled, recycled, and finally composted when the plastic is too weak…Composting and recycling both have their benefits (and their drawbacks) when compared to each other. What we need is for them to work with each other so that we aren’t forced to choose, and our habits can be as positive as possible for the environment.” — Packaging Digest ***
  • MADE IN: China
  • HOW TO CLEAN: Dishwasher safe
  • PACKAGING: Comes wrapped in paper 
  • OTHER: We are not big on replacing plastic with more plastic (where’s the visible intention in that?), but the upside here is that they are reusable.
  • AVERAGE COST (larger size): For foodservice, around $.08/per clear straw (discounts increase as you scale up your order). See the grid for a closer look at how costs average out over reusable items.

 

Available from companies such as Panda Packaging.
**Like other reusables, we recommend these for tasting in a two-cup system at each station: 1) one marked clean; 2) one marked dirty. They can be rotated through the dishwasher. Another option, is to store them in a cup filled with sanitizer.**
  • COLORS: all natural bamboo
  • SIZES: about 6″ and 8″ in length and 10mm in width
  • TEMPS: “can withstand both hot and cold liquids”
  • STURDINESS: they are about as tough as a hollowed out swizzle stick
  • MATERIALS:  Panda Packaging uses Bamboo that is sustainably sourced.
  • END OF LIFE:
    • Biodegradable – 40-60 days in landfill
    • If they are accepted in your composting system, they can decompose as fast as 25-30 days
  • CARBON FOOTPRINT/ENERGY/WATER CONSIDERATIONS:
    • Their bamboo is grown specifically for their products (“not taken from wild fragile ecosystems like some less reputable suppliers”).
  • MADE IN:
    • Indonesia. From Panda Packaging, ” we work with co-operatives and villages in Indonesia where our products are made by individuals who have struggled to find work (commonly non english speaker). We regularly visit our suppliers and work with them to improve all  aspects of their operation and one of our suppliers has recently sent his child to school with the money generated from making our straws.”
  • HOW TO CLEAN: dishwasher safe
    • Panda says, “Bamboo contains a binding agent called ‘Bamboo Kun’ which is found within its fibres; its sole purpose is to fight off any bacteria or fungus that tries to grow on it, inevitably making bamboo the most hygienic material to use.”
    • Trash Tiki advises “Hygiene needs to be maintained. Soak in a food safe sanitiser after use, then dry rapidly (low heat oven, microwave, dehydrator, etc).”
  • PACKAGING: “At absolutely NO point in the packaging process is any plastic used and try to minimize packaging in general. When necessary, they use recycled, thin walled cardboard boxes for large orders that are both recycled and were initially sustainably sourced. They wrap their products in unbleached paper and use paper tape to seal them shut, and both are fully biodegradable and recyclable. For smaller orders, they have developed their own packaging from bamboo veneer, which is designed to be reused by the receiver.” – Panda Packaging
  • OTHER: They can be branded, which is pretty cool. (starting at $1.53/piece and scaling up to $.93/piece)
  • AVERAGE COST (larger size): starting at $1.01/per straw but can get down to $.77/per straw. See the grid for a closer look at how costs average out over reusable items.

**Like other reusables, we recommend these for tasting in a two-cup system at each station: 1) one marked clean; 2) one marked dirty. They can be rotated through the dishwasher. Another option, is to store them in a cup filled with sanitizer.**
  • COLORS: clear and some come in different shades
  • SIZES: various sizes and widths, depending on the producer. Some do bent straws.
  • TEMPS: good for both hot and cold, with some people saying that this is their favorite type of straw for both extremes
  • STURDINESS: Pretty sturdy and often advertised as shatter-proof. Some companies will replace them if they break.
  • MATERIALS:  Most are made from borosilicate glass, the strongest glass commercially available. Colors are typically non-toxic.
  • END OF LIFE: Recyclable.  Do not forget that in NYC, only 52% of recyclable metal, glass, and plastics are diverted from landfills to recycling centers. Please help us improve on these numbers by actually recycling your recyclables!
  • CARBON FOOTPRINT/ENERGY/WATER CONSIDERATIONS:
    • Simply Straws is a Clean Energy business and EPA Green Power Partner. All electric energy is offset by Arcadia Power, a local wind and solar clean energy provider. Our effort in helping to reduce America’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels.
    • Using a glass product once makes it a much more carbon-intensive product compared to plastic. It’s important to keep using products to their fullest extent and make sure they get diverted to recycling – glass does not degrade (in contrast to plastic, which gets down-cycled meaning it is less valuable each time it is recycled).
  • MADE IN:
    • Simply Straws = California
    • Glass Dharma = California
    • Strawesome = This cute family makes them all at their glass-blowing studio
    • BeOrganic = Bali
  • HOW TO CLEAN: dishwasher safe. These also come with tiny little brushes to help keep them clean.
  • PACKAGING:
    • From Simple Straws: “Our sleeves are carefully crafted from fair-trade hemp, flax, and organic cotton. Our web hosting and printing are powered by eco energy, and we use non-toxic dyes and FSC-certified 100% post-consumer recycled paper for business materials. Oh, and all of our packaging is compostable.”
  • OTHER: Some producers can also brand your straws.
  • AVERAGE COST (larger size): Most retail starting at $6-7/piece on their websites and a few have wholesale inquiry forms for separate pricing (BeOrganic lists their wholesale at $3.50/piece). Do not forget that in NYC, only 52% of recyclable metal, glass, and plastics are diverted from landfills to recycling centers. That remaining 48% goes to the landfill or could end up breaking down in oceans or land areas, contributing to our micro plastic problem.



Please let us know if you have spied any new products, have experiences to share, or if we just fucked up any of the info above!