How biodegradable are “eco-friendly” PLA plastic straws in comparison to paper and petroleum-based plastic straws when discarded in nature? That is the question that German Immigrant Martin Isenburg was looking to answer when he set up the following experiment in his garden using an assortment of straws that he collected from around his home in Samara. You might be surprised by what he discovered.

Eco-Straw Experiment: DAY 1

For Martin’s experiment, three main types of straws were collected. From Left to right: PLA plastic biodegradable straws made by EcoSunrise, a local Costa Rican brand), in the middle red and white paper straws used by Princesa Bakery & Ice Cream Parlor and Marvin the Coconut guy, and on theRight, an assortment of single-use-plastic straw found strewn around Samara in the form of street litter.

The rusty iron bars were placed on top of the straws to prevent them from moving during the experiment.

Eco-Straw Experiment: DAY 34

After 34 days of rain and sun, only the paper straws are showing clear signs of biodegrading. The “green eco straws” (most of them from EcoSunrise), just like the plastic straws, show no sign of degradation.

Photo by Daphne Ardon

Eco-Straw Experiment: DAY 72

After 72 days outside in rain and sun, the paper straws used by the coconut guy and the shake lady have largely biodegraded. The green “eco straws” behave just like the plastic straws, showing no sign of degradation.

Probably just waiting for the right sea turtle nose to crawl into

Eco-Straw Experiment: DAY 96

After 96 days outside in rain and sun the Coconut guy’s paper straws are completely gone while no visible bio-degradation for the plastic-like green “eco-straws” by EcoSunrise can be seen.

According to Martin, based upon the experiment it can be safely concluded that the green “eco-straws” are essentially useless if your concern is the immediate protection of marine life since they “behave just like regular plastic for the first three months.”

As it turns out, despite most most PLA plastic being marketed as compostable, it actually requires industrial facilities to break down. So while many people believe PLA to be biodegradable, it simply is not. And since the enzymes which hydrolyze PLA are not normally found in nature, in order for PLA fulfill its eco-friendly promises, the infrastructure needs to be in place for industrial composting. Otherwise, it is still likely to end up in the landfill, or worse, in our ocean.