A Korean company has developed an interesting solution to combat single-use plastics. It has started producing edible straws made from rice and tapioca. Biodegradable, they are an excellent alternative in this country where 2.6 billion plastic straws are used each year.
Initiatives for the fight against plastic pollution are being taken all over the world. In South Korea, the company Yeonjigonji is fighting single-use plastics including straws which cause the death of many marine animals, by manufacturing and selling edible and biodegradable straws. This straw is a first in the world. It is composed of 70 percent rice flour and 30 percent tapioca powder. With such a composition, these straws are harder than plastic ones. They last between four and ten hours in cold drinks, and two to three hours in hot drinks. They also smell like rice but do not change the taste of drinks.
The edible rice straws are receiving positive comments in the country. Once a customer finishes his drink, he can either eat the straw or even put it in a plant pot or an aquarium. Unlike plastic straws that can take up to 200 years to decompose, these rice straws decompose in hundred days without leaving any micro-plastic particles.
In August 2018, the Korean government signed a ban on single-use plastic cups in businesses. Even if the rice straw is seen as an ecological alternative to plastic straws, it is not yet used massively. The reason is the price gap between a plastic straw and a rice straw which can cost six times more than a plastic one. Expensive to produce, they are, consequently, expensive to buy.
Currently, the company Yeonjigonji produces more than 500 million straws per month. The company, however, aims at reducing its cost price by increasing production. Despite its cost, many cafes in the country have happily substituted their plastic straws with the rice ones, proud to make a small gesture to help reduce plastic waste.
Vancouver and Singapore have been quick to react to this innovation. The Canadian city will be the first one to distribute rice straws in view of combating single-use plastics. Yearly, it cost the city around $2.5 million to collect such waste and plastic straws pollute approximately 3% of its shoreline. Singapore has also developed rice straws and is in the midst of launching mass production. The rice straw should be commercialized locally in May 2019.
In Korea, the rice straw is just the beginning of a larger project. As a matter of fact, the Yeonjigonji company is also developing cups, forks, spoons, knives and bags out of rice.
Not everyone is happy with ecological alternatives to plastic straws. In the UK, 39,000 customers have petitioned, demanding back their McDonald’s plastic straw. The fast-food giant started phasing out its plastic straws last year, switching to paper straws following pressure from environmental groups and consumers, and taking into consideration the new regulations on single-use plastics. The consumers demanding McDonald’s to reinstate the plastic straws explain that drinking a milkshake properly has become impossible with a paper straw. They also took to social media, posting pictures of soggy straws and claiming that the paper straws dissolve in their drink, giving a cardboard flavour to their beverage.
Following this backlash, a seller has even listed a McDonald’s plastic straw on eBay for £899, describing the iconic red and gold-striped straw as “super rare”. At the same time, customers have come up with another idea to avoid the paper straw. They are using the McDonald’s coffee lids for their other beverages to avoid using any straw. The decision of McDonald’s to ditch plastic straws is affecting 1,361 restaurants in the UK and the fast food giant is adamant to stick to its decision to reduce plastic waste from its restaurants and do its bit for the environment. In the UK, the McDonald’s uses about 1.8 million straws every single day.
Plastic straws do not concern food outlets only. UK ferry operator Northlink has also replaced its plastic straws with paper ones in view of reducing single-use plastics. Running ferries between Aberdeen, Kirkwall and Lerwick, Northlink has decided to diminish its environmental footprint. Apart from plastic straws, it has equally replaced 87,000 disposable cups and 28,000 lids with biodegradable alternatives. It is likewise planning to replace plastic teaspoons, food trays and sauces portion pots with eco-friendly alternatives. This decision has resulted in a reduction of 200,000 plastic items yearly.
Bans on plastic straws and other single-use plastic items in various countries are boosting innovations. In the Philippines, for instance, a cafe has ditched its plastic straws to adopt “lukay” straws, an alternative made from coconut fronds or palm leaves. By innovating with this eco-friendly practice, the cafe has wowed netizens. Prior to this, the cafe owner had tried substituting its plastic straws with stainless steel and paper ones but customers were not happy with these two options.
In Trinidad and Tobago, another company has started producing ecological and reusable bamboo straws to replace plastic straws. In Vietnam, a young businessman came up with the innovative idea to use a wild species of grass called Lepironia Articulata, which has a hollow stem, to make biodegradable straws. Once collected, each stem is washed and cut in lengths of 20 centimetres. The insides are cleaned with iron rods. They are washed again and bundled up in banana leaves. The young man proposes two versions of the grass straw – one fresh, and the other dried. The dried one is left under the sun for about two days and is then baked in an oven. It can be stored at room temperature for about six months.