Straws - Biodegradable, Compostable, Recyclable. What's the difference?
Many straw sellers boast environmentally-friendly alternatives to single-use plastic straws which are advertised as "biodegradable", "compostable" or "recyclable". These adjectives are quite similar in nature, but not interchangeable. But what exactly do these terms mean? We first need to understand the impact of single-use plastics on the environment and learn the meaning of those often interchanged words.
A biodegradable straw refers to a straw whose components are able to break down and eventually decay through natural processes. In order for straws to meet the 'biodegrable' criteria, they need to decompose into materials naturally found in nature within a short period of time; typically within a year or less. Biodegradable straws, such as those made of bamboo, paper(sometimes) or hay, help reduce the buildup of waste in landfills. Non-biodegradable straws - plastic straws, for instance, either end up in landfills, the ocean or contribute to the death of sea animals and last for decades on the planet as waste.
A compostable straw refers to a straw whose components, as they break down, can be used as 'compost' or valuable nutrients which can be given to plants. However, one significant difference for a straw that is compostable but not biodegradable is that composting requires specific conditions under which the straw can be composted. An example of such material is corn-based PLA Plastic straws.
One common misconception by sellers and buyers alike, is that Corn-Based PLA Plastic straws are biodegradasble. I'm afraid not. PLA Plastic straws are compostable but not biodegradable; unless you dispose of them in special composters, they will not break down naturally like biodegradable straws. Compostable straws require special composting conditions only met in a designated composter.
A recyclable straws refers to one made of recyclable materials, that is, whose materials can be reprocessed and adapted to different or similar purposes. Stainless Steel, Silicone or Glass straws, for example, are all recyclable. Paper is recyclable, but food-contaminated paper straws do not provide enough economic incentive for recycling. Some types of paper straws are, on the other hand, biodegradable and compostable. So they are all eco-friendly in different ways.
My first pick, for an eco-friendly straw, would be one which is biodegradable; simple for the fact that the lower the requirements, the better. I mean, if I can just dispose of my bamboo or hay straw into my flower pot, that's brilliant.
My second pick, would be one which is recyclable. Biodegradable straws tend to have quite a short lifespan, and if I wanted something more durable like one made of metal or silicone, then it might as well technically last 'forever'.
My last pick, would obviously be one which is compostable. It's nice, of course, to know that my straw is able to turn into nutrients for some plant in the future, but the thing is, not everyone has a composter at home, or anywhere public, really. It is a bit of a luxury right now, and until either the prices go down or the city council decides to install them everywhere, I'm not a big fan of compostable-only straws.