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

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


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