Americans love their straws. So much so, that we use an estimated 500 million1 straws per day – roughly the weight of 1,000 cars, or enough to wrap around the earth 2.5 times a day!

With the green movement growing, and attention turning towards more sustainable practices, consumers are becoming more focused on biodegradable or recyclable straw alternatives, including paper drinking straws.

The straw-less movement has been growing over the past two years and several cities are already banning single-use plastic straws. A new law in California makes it illegal for restaurant servers to give customers plastic straws unless asked. Public pressure has also driven businesses like Starbucks and Seaworld to announce plans to eliminate plastic straws.

So why don’t manufacturers just start producing more disposable paper straws? The problem is in the production. Paper drinking straws are about five times2 more expensive to produce than plastic straws. Current machinery can produce just 150-200 straws per minute, compared to machines that can produce 2,000 plus plastic straws per minute. Paper straws must be made with several layers of paper, to give them strength so they don’t disintegrate in a drink (yet, they need to be biodegradable).

Before paper straws can grow into an affordable commodity, the industry, including machinery, will have to evolve. Meeting that challenge will take some time, but it will happen. Because right now, 18 billion3 pounds of plastic (including plastic straws) winds up in the ocean each year. That’s simply not sustainable.