Straws are one of the most common plastic waste products found on coastlines. As more and more plastic products are being produced, consumed, and disposed of, scientists and manufacturers are developing alternative materials that work equally as well, and don’t contribute to persistent plastic pollution in the environment.
But not all plastics are created the same—different manufacturers have different formulations of base polymers—such as polylactic acid (PLA) and polypropylene (PP)—and chemical additives. That means different plastic formulations behave differently in the environment and break down in the ocean at different rates. There are new materials out in the market that move away from petroleum-derived products—like cellulose diacetate (CDA), a polymer derived from wood pulp that is widely used in consumer goods—and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists have been working to quantify the environmental lifetimes of a wide range of plastic goods to answer the unresolved question, how long do straws last in the ocean?
In a new paper published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, WHOI scientists Collin Ward, Bryan James, Chris Reddy, and Yanchen Sun put different types of plastics and paper drinking straws head-to-head to see which degrade the fastest in the coastal ocean. They partnered with scientists from bioplastic manufacturing company Eastman, who provided funding, contributed as coauthors, and supplied materials for the study.
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