Sipping Your Drink with 100% Biodegradable Straws

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Sipping Your Drink with 100% Biodegradable Straws

Researchers from the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology have developed a straw made from biodegradable plastic and plant fibers, making it 100% biodegradable in marine environments.

Researchers have developed a 100% biodegradable straw that will decompose in marine environments. Image of plastic straws.
Researchers have developed a 100% biodegradable straw that will decompose in marine environments. Image: Pixabay

Governments around the world are committing to the environmental movement by banning single-use plastic. Thousands of tonnes of single-use plastic, including cutlery, straws, and grocery bags, are thrown in landfills yearly. These items are hard to recycle as many countries don’t have adequate recycling programs or technologies to do so.

It is expected that this ban on single-use plastic worldwide will result in the reduction of over 1.3 million tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic waste and over 22 000 tonnes of plastic pollution. This is equivalent to over a million garbage bags.

The effect of plastic straws has gained public attention as more people become aware of the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans. People have also become aware of plastic straws’ impact on turtles. Many turtles have been mistakenly identifying straws as food, harming their health.

Along with the ban on plastic and plastic straws, many entrepreneurs have developed eco-alternatives to this drinking tool. We’ve seen metal, bamboo, rice and paper straws as alternatives. While they are all better alternatives to plastic, they come with drawbacks. Although paper straws get soggy after a while in liquid, they can still sip liquid. This is because they are coated in the same materials used for making plastic bags. Rice straws do not decompose well in water and are harder and more expensive to manufacture.

Researchers from the  Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology may have found the ultimate solution to the straw problem. The team created a straw made of biodegradable plastic (polylactide, Poly (lactic-co-glycolic acid) and polybutylene succinate) and cellulose nanocrystals (plant fibres). These plant fibers are the same components as paper and are the optimal attachment to plastic.

These new straws can resist sogginess in both hot and cold beverages. These straws are also anti-fizzing when used with soft drinks. This is compared to paper straws which become soggy when a liquid touches the uncoated part of the straw and causes bubbles to form when they are left in carbonated beverages.

One of the main advantages of these new biodegradable straws is their ability to completely degrade in marine environments. By testing these straws in marine environments near Pohang, South Korea, the researchers found that the straws lost more than 50% of their weight after 60 days. The straws also completely decomposed after 120 days. This is compared to plastic straws, which did not decompose at all in the same time frame.

These new straws are an excellent eco-alternative to plastic straws and even paper and rice ones. Since straws are likely to be around in restaurants and bars, this is a good way to cater to the customers while protecting marine animals and the environment.

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