PLA Straws- Myths surrounding them and why Paper straws are a better answer for sustainability
Straws, the wonder invented by mankind in 3000 BC by Sumerians in the Mesopotamia era and a marvel that gets ignored often, of late, seek attention. And thanks to the much of the noise about Environment safety, Marine life, and Sustainability.
The advent of the industrial revolution in the 1960s saw a sudden spurt of activities in the Automobile sector and resulted in mushrooming of Fast Food restaurants and people started talking about convenience in packaging and sipping of beverages on the go.
With fossil fuels gaining currency and mass consumption several byproducts of Petroleum products started emanating. One such by-product is Polypropylene popularly called Plastic. Plastic started spreading its tentacles like an octopus and virtually dominated in all spheres of life in mankind. The one-use plastic which was supposed to bring convenience and reduce the cost factor became Omni present in the lives of people.
while it did bring in convenience and cut costs, it also cut several good things and started posing danger to Environment, Marine Life and started telling on the health of people. Not only was it omni present but it was also omnipotent and brought several problems like Landfills, carbon emissions, and sustainability as it was simply not biodegradable. It takes several centuries to decompose and hence what was supposed to make life convenient and cut costs, actually damaged the earth and cost heavily in terms of recovery.
Excessive usage of Plastic straws resulted in:
- Increased Estrogen Levels
- Loss of Marine Life
- And because of its non-biodegradable nature, it resulted in breaking into microplastics that got dumped into seas and oceans. The fish and shellfish which consumed them remained in their stomach and they ended up on dinner tables causing health hazards.
What was the solution?
The awareness of Environment, Health and sustainability forced mankind to look for an alternative, and after much research, the PLA straws got introduced with much fanfare and hullaballoo.
What is a PLA Straw?
The PLA in PLA Straw means POLYLACTIC ACID. It is the most common bioplastic, which is made from biomass from fermented starch of crops such as sugar cane, corn, and sometimes even from algae.
PLA Straws are also single-use, supposedly plastic free but mimic its cousins- plastic straws in terms of appearance as well as Texture. Though a bit expensive compared to Plastic straws, the majority of the Corporates favor them and market them heavily as a solution to Plastic straw Pollution.
The corporates quote them to be
- Environment friendly
- Consumes lesser fossil fuel
- And above all sustainable.
The myths about PLA Straws busted:
- While it is much-touted to be biodegradable and environment-friendly, the truth is not just so. A recent study shows that it takes 100-1000 years to break into compostable parts. As per Smithsonian analysts, it takes ages to decompose.
- In terms of Environment Psychology lack of knowledge on the part of the consumers results in failure to differentiate between Plastic straws and PLA straws.
- It is really a pain for the Recycling plants as PLA straws require 10 days of nonstop heating @ 60 degrees Celsius to break down to decompose.
- What is touted to be a sustainable solution, PLA straws are contrary to this fact. PLA straws are also single-use and hence they create considerable wastage and hence have long-lasting damage like their cousins- Plastic straws.
- They in fact shadow the larger issues of Environment and sustainability Problems.
- Polylactic Acid is also acid and hence it raises acidity levels and hence creates havoc and damage to seas, oceans, and soil nutrition, and causes long-lasting damage to marine life.
- It requires huge land space t produce corn and other staple crops to produce PLA straws. Initially, it may look to be economical but in the long run, it also causes the same damage as Plastic straws.
- PLA straws are much touted to produce fewer CO2 Emissions than regular Plastic straws. But what is conveniently ignored is that because of its special characteristic in decomposing and also it requires the special facility to make it compostable, they create more havoc and damage. It releases a large quantity of Methane, a greenhouse-like co2, and is at least 20 times more damaging to Environment. Corporates that support PLA straws conveniently hide this fact.
What is the solution?
The inventor and patent holder of Straws made them with paper only. In the year 1888 Marvin Stone made the first straw.
Also, the inventor and patent holder of bendable straws, Joseph Friedman, in the year 1937 also made the bendable straws out of paper only.
Paper straws are by far the most environmental-friendly option. Studies show Paper straws break down quickly (they start to break down within three days if they end up in our oceans), and are compostable.
The entire corporates in the industry remain divided on the aspect of switching to Paper straws. While some of the top and most popular corporates continue to support PLA straws indirectly, for reasons best known to them. They may have vested interests and quote cost as the factor. They may even go to lengths to support them quoting them as biodegradable and compostable artificial plastic.
They may even sermonize that it is the best alternative to the ills of Plastic Straws. But the facts are contrary to that.
Also, you have some corporates who understand the fact and start making huge investments and preparations to switch to paper straws and start researching developing a sustainable and affordable paper straw that would avoid landfills and save the earth and marine life.
The funny thing is that the common man who is now aware of the environment, marine life, and above all Sustainability is now switching to biodegradable paper straws. You can witness this on a daily basis where even the roadside vendors of tender coconuts and other beverages use only paper straws.
But ironically some of the popular beverage manufacturers continue to take sides with PLA straws and continue to patronage them for reasons best known to them. Of course, we can not generalize as some of the top packaging companies are already making huge investments in making paper straws and aim to supply them at affordable prices to the common man. It’s time that the rest also follow suit and act in such a way that there are less landfill, safe marine life, and sustainability.
While paper straws may cost a little more, the feel-good emotion you and your customers get from a refreshing drink will only get better when you know your straw won’t have a negative impact on the environment.