A recent article ("Government will take action if we don't," June 24, Page 6) discussed plastic straws. Mr. Loepp states correctly that plastic straws are both difficult and expensive to recycle.
Moreover, one should note that recycling is getting harder to do, as costs to municipalities are increasing because China is no longer taking our waste materials.
Cities, such as Stamford, Conn., which used to be paid $95,000 for recycled materials, will be paying $700,000 per year. Richland, Wash., is now paying $122 per ton for its recycling when last year it was paid $16 per ton. Many cities across the U.S. are suspending recycling. Most plastics end up in landfills, as it is the easiest way to dispose of them and all other trash.
Consequently, it would be a benefit to choose a biodegradable plastic that is designed to break down in landfills and, most importantly, is certified to do so. Oxo- or oxy-degradables need high heat or direct sunlight in order to break down. (They are certified ASTM 6954-04.) As neither of these conditions are found in landfills, they are not an option. Plant-based plastics are also a poor choice. (They are certified ASTM 6400.) They require disposal in commercial or municipal composts where there is high heat, moisture and aeration. Few people have access to these sites.
The real option for straws is one made from a landfill-biodegradable plastic that breaks down in landfills. This film interacts with the biota, which enables it to degrade. (It is certified ASTM 5511 and ASTM 5526, the certifications for landfill-biodegradable plastic.)
The option of using paper straws is shortsighted. We live in a disposable society. The largest portion of solid waste in U.S. landfills is paper and paperboard products. These items make up 31 percent of the trash put into landfills in 2008, according to the 2008 EPA figures. Newspapers, the most degradable materials of this sort, can take up to 50 years to decompose. William Rathje of the University of Arizona dug up newspapers that were 35 years old and were readable.
Straws made with landfill-biodegradable plastic will degrade in landfills and can be recycled. They need no special handling. This is the best answer to paper and plastic problems now facing our environment.