As the trend toward sustainability grows, and plastic straws become the target of increasing government regulations, businesses are looking for alternatives for the traditional plastic straw.
There are several available alternatives, and selecting the best one for your foodservice program can be confusing. Some options are more sustainable while others are more durable, but all are more expensive than plastic straws.
Imperial Dade has a large selection of green foodservice products to satisfy your facility’s needs and budget. To help you choose the best one for your business, we have compiled a list of the most common alternatives so you don’t have to.
Below, we’ll cover the advantages and disadvantages of the 8 most common alternatives for plastic straws.
Alternatives To Plastic Straws:
- Sip Cup Lids
- Paper Straws
- Bamboo Straws
- PLA Straws
- Metal Straws
- Glass Straws
- Silicone Straws
- Reusable Plastic Straws
1. Sip Cup Lids
- Sip cup lids replace the need for a straw entirely. The lid is dome-shaped with a sip-thru hole in the top so your customers can drink right from the top of the cup without having to remove the lid or insert a straw.
- Sip cup lids are typically made from PET or PLA. PLA (polylactic acid) is a fully compostable corn resin. PET (polyethylene terephthalate) or plastic number one is easily and widely recycled.
Advantages of Sip Cup Lids:
- Forming a tight seal, customers don’t have to worry about leakage or spills from the cup’s rim. The slight dome shape of the sip cup lid can also provide extra room for froth or whipped cream.
- Sip cup lids are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic straws. PLA sip cup lids can be BPI certified to compost at commercial facilities. PET lids can be recycled curbside. The clear lid design helps showcase your product to consumers while helping reduce plastic waste.
Disadvantages of Sip Cup Lids:
- Consumers may mistake the PLA lid for plastic and not compost it.
- Completely eliminating straws can negatively affect your guests experience with your products. For example, some individuals such as those with disabilities require straws to be able to drink beverages.
2. Paper Straws
Paper straws are a single-use alternative to plastic straws. They are offered in various colors.
Advantages of Paper Straws:
- Paper straws are compostable at commercial composting facilities. They break down into organic materials leaving a smaller footprint on the earth. Look for third-party certifications such as the Cedar Grove Composter® approval seal.
Pro Tip: Cedar Grove is a commercial composter that provides third-party certifications to products. Find out more about which paper straws are Cedar Grove Certified Compostable.
- If you are looking to display your sustainability efforts, using paper straws can make it obvious to your customers that you consider the full product lifecycle and are making an effort to leave a smaller footprint on the earth.
Disadvantages of Paper Straws:
- The durability of a paper straw will depend on the manufacturer, but it is generally less durable than plastic straws and the other alternatives on this list.
- The integrity of paper straws will be reduced the longer they are left to sit in a drink. Although still usable when soft, consumers often negatively react to a soggy straws.
- Paper straws should not be used with hot liquids. Hot liquids will cause a paper straw to lose its shape faster.
3. Bamboo Straws
Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource making it a great option for single-use straws.
Advantages of Bamboo Straws:
- Derived from bamboo stalks, it is an environmentally friendly alternative that can be composted at the end of its life.
Disadvantages of Bamboo Straws:
- Bamboo can splinter with prolonged or rough use. Splintering straws can lead to customer dissatisfaction or even injury.
- They are very difficult to clean because they can absorb liquids.
- Most bamboo straws can only be used one time.
- Bamboo should only be used with cold liquids.
4. PLA (Polylactic Acid) Straws
PLA is made from corn resin. Corn is a renewable resource, which helps make PLA more sustainable than plastic which is made from petroleum.
Advantages of PLA Straws:
- Most PLA straws are certified compostable.
Pro Tip: PLA straws must be commercially composted to break down. Look for third-party certifications such as the Cedar Grove Composter® approval seal.
- PLA straws are very flexible and perform similarly to single-use plastic straws.
- PLA straws can be wrapped or unwrapped. Wrapped straws help prevent contamination.
Disadvantages of PLA Straws:
- PLA products look and feel just like regular plastic which can be confusing to consumers. If you are looking to showcase your sustainability, customers may not know that it is compostable, creating a negative perception of your business’ sustainability efforts.
- They should only be used with cold liquids. Hot liquids can cause the straw to melt.
5. Metal Straws
Most metal straws are made from stainless steel. They can also be made from aluminum.
Advantages of Metal Straws:
- Metal straws are extremely durable and can be reused many times.
- They are dishwasher safe.
Disadvantages of Metal Straws:
- Metal straws can be used with hot or cold liquids, but they can transfer the heat to the consumer. For example, if the consumer uses a metal straw with their hot beverage, like coffee, they can burn their lips.
- They are very hard and can pose a risk of chipped teeth if the consumer bites or misuses the straw.
- At the end of life, metal straws are typically not accepted curbside.
6. Glass Straws
Most glass straws are made from borosilicate. Borosilicate is the same type of glass used for beverage glassware and kitchenware (like coffee pots).
Advantages of Glass Straws:
- Borosilicate is extremely durable. It is microwave, freezer and dishwasher safe.
- Unlike other straw substrates like bamboo or plastic, glass straws are hypoallergenic.
- Glass straws can be used with hot or cold liquids.
Disadvantages of Glass Straws:
- Although glass straws are durable, they can break under pressure.
7. Silicone Straws
Silicone straws are made from non-harmful food-grade silicon. Silicon is non-plastic and a BPA free material.
Advantages of Silicone Straws:
- Silicone straws are a great option for facilities who serve children, seniors, or persons with disabilities.
- Silicon straws provide a softer alternative to metal and glass straws. Patrons don’t have to worry about accidentally hitting their teeth or biting a hard straw.
- They are dishwasher safe. Silicone straws can safely withstand temperatures up to 500 degrees. For extra sanitation, they can be boiled for a short period of time.
Disadvantages of Silicone Straws:
- Silicone straws are not as visually appealing as other alternatives.
8. Reusable Plastic Straws
Reusable plastic straws are typically made from polypropylene.
Advantages of Reusable Plastic Straws:
- Reusable plastic straws are thicker than single-use plastic straws but not as hard as glass or metal.
- They can be reused several times.
- Some reusable straws are dishwasher safe. Check with your manufacturer.
Disadvantages of Reusable Plastic Straws:
- These straws are not very flexible and will break with twisting or bending.
- These straws are difficult to recycle. Many curbside recyclers will not accept reusable straws.
Finding the right single-use plastic straw alternative for your business will depend on your customers’ needs and your business goals.
If you are looking for a single-use alternative, sip cup lids, paper straws, bamboo straws or PLA straws can suit your needs. Of the single-use straws, wrapped PLA straws can offer a more sanitary solution. Additionally, when compared to single-use plastic straws, they provide the user with the most comparable experience.
Schools or facilities with children, seniors, or persons with disabilities will want to consider silicone straws.
Metal or glass straws are a great option if you are looking for sleek, reusable straws.
When considering price, silicone is cheaper than glass and metal, but more expensive than bamboo, paper, PLA or reusable plastic. Metal and glass are the most expensive.
Streamlining eco-friendly foodservice alternatives into your business can be complex. That’s why Imperial Dade locations have a wide variety of sustainable foodservice items, designed to help your business adjust to changing trends.
If you’re located in the United States, Puerto Rico, or the Caribbean, contact an Imperial Dade Specialist for help finding the right alternative to plastic straws for your business that will help you balance sustainability, performance, look, and price.