What Kind of Plastic are Drinking Straws Made From? (PLUS 6 Non-plastic Alternatives)

Looking at the plastic that comes into contact with our food, we realized we’re surrounded by plastic drinking straws too. So what are they made from?

Okay, we've muddled through dishes, cookware, kitchen appliances, coffeemakers and much more, but what about drinking straws?  Once we started looking at all of the plastic that comes into contact with our food, we eventually realized that we're surrounded by straws too.  And if it comes in contact with our mouths or our food, we're going to get to the bottom of it!

A Little History on Plastic Straws

With a little research, we learned that straws have quite a history of their own.  Early on, natural rye grass straws were used by beer-drinking Sumerians as filters for solid particulate byproducts of fermentation.  In 1888, Marvin Stone patented the spiral winding process to manufacture the first wax-coated paper drinking straws which were made by hand.  In the 1900's with the advent of machinery, the ability to automate spiral-wound straws opened the door to the invention of plastic straws.

What Kind of Plastic are Drinking Straws Made From?

Surprisingly, there are quite a few different types of straws, so we decided to look at the most prolific straw used – the fast food style straw.  The first plastic straws were made using toxic polystyrene (#6), but now safer polypropylene (#5) or polyethylene (#2) is favored over polystyrene, because polystyrene is brittle and tends to crack easily (just like the famous red Solo-type cups).  One anecdotal way you can tell what type of straw you're drinking from is to see whether it sinks or floats:  polystyrene is denser than water, causing straws to sink when placed into liquids.  Polypropylene straws are much more flexible, durable and do not sink.  Of course, this method is not fool-proof so if in doubt, contact the manufacturer directly to find out what materials are used.

The good news: most of the current straws are made from either #2 or #5 plastic, so the concern about toxic chemical exposure is very low.

The bad news:  environmentally speaking both #2 and #5 plastics are recyclable, but most people don't recycle and McDondald's alone served over 50 million meals in 2008!  Can you imagine the sheer number of straws laying in the landfill?

Alternative Straw Options

There are so many non-disposable alternatives that will help put a dent in that landfill!

What's your favorite plastic-free straw?

UPDATED 7/12/16

Plastic drinking straws and 6 eco-friendly alternatives

23 comments
  1. Although nondisposable straws are a great idea… I'm still perplexed as to how you would keep them clean – the inside that is.

  2. The timing of this post is perfect! I was just in a store yesterday and saw straws on the counter. I was hoping they were glass but instead, they were just decorated plastic ones.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the Stainless Steel Straws up on your site so I can buy a few!

  3. Now that our township has single-stream recycling, I have been recylcing my husbands straws despite the fact I didn't know what they were made of. I am intriegued by the bamboo ones! Not as delicate as glass, nicer on the teeth than stainless? Once again, thanks for the timely research and post!

  4. Pingback: » Environmentally Friendly - Healthy Lifestyle and Nutrition tips for Healthy Homes
  5. Hi! Just wanted to let you know that we over at KIWI Magazine's blog, KiwiLog, loved your post and decided to feature it in our weekly mom blog round-up!

    Cheers!

  6. Hi Kirstin,

    So glad you found the info useful! It was something we've need to tackle for sometime now. Locating the stainless steel straws for our store has been tricky too, but our shipment will be on its way soon!

    Alicia

  7. Hi Joh,

    Sounds like you had the right idea recycling your straws after all! So glad you found the info helpful. We'd love to hear how you like the bamboo straws if you decided on them, as we've never had the chance to try them ourselves.

    Alicia

  8. In fear of what danger lurked in straws, we finally just recently taught our daughter to drink from a big-girl cup (no straw!) but I'm thankful to know that our occasional straw use isn't harmful. We try to just not use one, but sometimes when we're on the go, it's just so much easier…and spill-safe.

    Good to know that they can be recycled! Thanks Alicia

  9. In fear of what danger lurked in straws, we finally just recently taught our daughter to drink from a big-girl cup (no straw!) but I'm thankful to know that our occasional straw use isn't harmful. We try to just not use one, but sometimes when we're on the go, it's just so much easier…and spill-safe.

    Good to know that they can be recycled! Thanks Alicia

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  12. Another good cleaner for straws can be got from your chemist.  It may sound a bit “yewww” but they can get you a brush designed for cleaning Urinary Catheters.   Of course these are supplied sterile.  They are very long & the right diameter.

  13. This is so bad but I can’t help myself:
    red vines candies make great soda straws with both ends bitten off 🙂

  14. you might be interested in looking into these hard silicone straws by GreenPaxx. They are non-toxic silicone and they come in two pieces for easy cleaning and carrying.

  15. You can sterilize the bamboo straws by boiling them for 20 min in water with vinegar or run thru a dishwasher cycle and then I would say run cleaning brush or pipe cleaner thru before and after……

  16. Wow! this is the first time I’m reading an article on straws. I wouldn’t buy a non-disposable straw though. I like to use them once and dispose them as I’m very afraid they will become unhygienic overtime. Anyway, you seem to cover everything here on this blog! Thank you for the great job you are doing.

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