Single use plastic: How long does it take for plastic straws to biodegrade?

The plastic impact: How long does it take for plastic straws to degrade?
© iStock/tzahiV

A recent study by packaging supplier Rajapack has revealed how long it takes for popular plastic products such as plastic straws to biodegrade and tips on how to reduce single use plastic.

The study, titled The Impact that Plastic has in our Environment, states that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each year taking hundreds of years to biodegrade. The study assesses popular single use plastic items such as plastic straws to see how long these take to biodegrade.

Facts about single use plastic

  • There are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans
  • An estimated 8.5 billion plastic straws are made every year in the UK.
  • A single plastic straw can take 200 years to biodegrade
  • Over 40% of plastic today is single use

How long does it take for plastic items to biodegrade?

Some of the highlights from the study include:
◦”Straws – If Queen Victoria used a plastic straw at her coronation in 1873, we could have it on display today. A paper straw would take only 3 days to degrade.
◦Cups – If a cup of polystyrene was around during the Jurassic period, we will find it today next to dinosaurs. Although, a 100% biodegradable cup will only take 3-6 months to be gone.
◦Scrubs – If there were plastic microbeads present during The Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, they would still be here today. However, sugar and salt dissolve in seconds.”

The report identifies some of the ‘worst culprits’ as microplastics, plastic shopping bags, plastic cotton buds, cutlery, straws, drink stirrers, and sticks for balloons.

The advice to consumers is: “Plastic is something that gets taken for granted and is often used without a second thought, whilst it is difficult to avoid all plastic you can limit the amount of single-use plastics you use.” Rajapack has produced a tool for consumers to find out more about the impact of single use plastic.

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