why are straws bad for the environment

Why are Straws Bad for the Environment

Last Updated on August 29, 2023 by Krystine

Plastic drinking straws have become a convenience we often take for granted.

This article examines the impacts of plastic straws and solutions to curb their harm.

Understanding the ecological threats posed by straws is key to driving change.

Why are Straws Bad for the Environment?

A bunch of plastic straws found at the beach
Plastic straws have become the main symbol or problem that many point to when the conversation about environmental damage due to plastic comes up. In fact, many people believe reducing plastic straws will “save the turtles” because of viral images of turtles harmed by them. Image Credit: CHS News

Plastic straws are extremely detrimental to the environment because they persist indefinitely, easily leak into ecosystems, threaten wildlife through ingestion, and cannot be reliably recycled.

Their small size makes leakage and improper disposal rampant.

Key Points

  • Polypropylene plastic straws never biodegrade and accumulate in landfills and oceans.
  • Marine animals and birds often accidentally ingest straws, causing severe injury and death.
  • Used straws overwhelmingly end up as litter due to recycling challenges.

Why Are Plastic Straws So Problematic?

Plastic straws wreak environmental havoc through:


Most straws are made from polypropylene plastic that never biodegrades and persists indefinitely in the environment when discarded improperly.

Small Size

Their slim shape makes straws prone to slipping through waste screens and contaminating recycling streams.


This exacerbates leakage into the environment.

Risk to Wildlife

Marine animals and birds often mistake straws for food. Ingesting straws obstructs their digestive tracts, causing injury and death.


Their small lightweight size makes straws difficult to recycle profitably.

As a result, they overwhelmingly end up in landfills or loose as litter.

Due to these factors, our rampant use of plastic straws has broad ecological consequences.

How Do Discarded Straws Threaten Oceans?

A piece of plastic sticking out of a turtle
Plastic straws can pose a serious health risk because they don’t break down, which means they stay in the stomachs of sea turtles. Image Credit: Earth Touch

When straws enter marine environments they inflict substantial harm:

Ingestion and Entanglement

Seabirds, turtles, and fish mistake floating straws for prey.

Consuming straws leads to malnutrition, intestinal injury, and death.

Trash Vortexes

Straws are amongst the most common plastics accumulating in oceanic garbage patches where currents converge.

Coastal Pollution

Straws constantly wash up on shorelines.

Beach clean-up efforts collected over 166,000 straws from US coasts during just one recent 30-day stretch.

Microplastic Contamination

Straws break down into tiny microplastics, which absorb toxins that enter the marine food web when smaller creatures ingest them.

Plastic straw leakage thus degrades ocean life and habitats through both physical and chemical impacts.

How Do Straws Degrade Land Ecosystems?

Straw waste on land also inflicts environmental damage:

Clogged Waterways

Discarded straws litter streams, rivers, and lakes, worsening urban flooding by blocking storm drains and drainage.

Detracting Natural Beauty

Pristine wild areas littered with plastic straws and wrappers diminish the visitor experience and scenic quality.

Livestock Health Risks

Farm animals accidentally consuming straws left on the ground can choke or sustain intestinal injuries.

Toxic Legacy

Leaching chemicals like BPA during the decades or centuries of straw litter persist introduces toxins into soils, plants, and groundwater.

Through flooding, pollution, and wildlife hazards, straw waste degrades terrestrial ecosystems.

How Can We Curb Plastic Straw Usage?

To tackle their environmental impacts, we can take measures like:

Outright bans on plastic straw distribution are implemented through legislation and company sustainability policies.

Switching to more sustainable paper, bamboo, stainless steel, and glass straw alternatives.

Using straws only when medically needed or foregoing straws altogether.

Enacting plastic straw fees to dramatically reduce demand, as seen in the bag fee model.

Improving waste separation and recycling technology to prevent straws from entering oceans and landfills.

Educating consumers on the environmental toll of plastic straws.

Through a combination of top-down policies, infrastructure upgrades, and bottom-up advocacy, we can stem the tide of plastic straw pollution.

How Do Straws Impact The Environment?

Plastic straws negatively impact the environment in several ways:

Most straws are too small and lightweight to be recycled, so they end up as litter-polluting landscapes and waterways.

Many eventually reach the ocean.

In the ocean, straws are consumed by seabirds, fish, and sea turtles that mistake them for food.

The straws then obstruct their digestive tracts, resulting in malnutrition, infection, and death.

Straws that end up in landfills can take 200 years or more to decompose.

As they slowly break down, they release chemicals like BPA into soil and groundwater.

On land, straws litter nature areas and clog storm drains, worsening flooding.

Livestock, like cattle, also ingests stray straws while grazing, causing choking hazards.

Producing straws from fossil fuels to meet massive single-use demand drives further oil and gas extraction.

This process emits greenhouse gases.

Overall, straws pose ingestion hazards to wildlife, release toxins, and their production and litter contribute to pollution from oceans to pastures.

What Are 3 Reasons Plastic Straws Should Be Banned?

There are several compelling reasons for banning plastic straws:

They are rarely recycled and often end up as litter that makes its way into waterways and oceans, threatening marine life.

Straws break down into microplastics over centuries.

These accumulate toxins that enter food chains when smaller animals ingest them.

Producing hundreds of millions of straws annually requires substantial fossil fuel inputs that contribute to climate change through emissions.

Straws clog storm drains and worsen urban flooding.

Livestock also ingests stray straws while grazing.

Banning straws would prevent these perils of wildlife toxicity, flooding, pollution, and unchecked resource consumption.

How Are Plastic Straws Destroying The Environment?

Plastic straws harm the environment through:

Persisting for up to 200 years as litter, slowly degrading into smaller microplastics that accumulate in ecosystems.

Contaminating recycling streams because they often slip through sorting equipment and get discarded as waste.

Clogging storm drains and drainage infrastructure, contributing to increased urban flooding.

Washing out to sea where marine animals mistake them for food, causing intestinal blockage and death when ingested.

Leaking toxic chemicals like BPA as they gradually decompose over centuries.

Driving further fossil fuel extraction and refining for producing millions of new straws annually using non-renewable resources.

Overall, through litter, flooding, wildlife toxicity, and unchecked resource consumption, plastic straws inflict substantial ecological damage. Rethinking their usage is crucial.

Key Takeaways on Straws and the Environment

  • Most plastic straws are non-biodegradable and accumulate as litter and in giant ocean vortexes.
  • Marine and land animals often mistake straws for food, leading to injury and death when ingested.
  • Outright bans, fees, alternative materials, and education can all help curb straw usage.

The environmental impact of plastic straws makes a compelling case for rethinking single-use plastics. Simple changes can make a major difference.


How do straws impact ocean environments?

Discarded straws accumulate in ocean gyres, litter coastlines, and are ingested by sea creatures, leading to malnutrition, intestinal blockages, and death.

Where do most used straws end up?

Due to the difficulty of recycling lightweight straws, they mostly end up directly in landfills or loose as litter that reaches oceans through waterways or wind. Only a tiny fraction are properly recycled.

Why are straws hard to recycle?

Straws’ slim shape and lightweight plastic composition make them difficult to process compared to heavier plastics. They fall through the cracks in waste sortation systems.

GreenChiCafe is passionate about the environment and our natural world.

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