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PLA Straws: A False Eco-Friendly Solution?
Straws are the simple and the most underrated item but one of the most useful inventions of mankind. It is now getting the much-needed attention that it deserves.
Do you know that Sumerians of the Mesopotamic era in 3000 BC used straws to drink beer fermented by them in large vats? It was difficult for them to lift and pass around the vats and hence they used long straws so that they can sit on the floor and drink the beer together. In fact, STRAWS were uniting people and promoting camaraderie.
Marvin Stone designed and patented the first straw which was 8½inches long in the year 1888. Do you know the straw he patented was made of PAPER only?
In 1937, the simple invention saw another milestone. Joseph Friedman created and patented bendable straws after seeing her daughter find it hard to drink her beverage using straight straws. Thus, bendable straws were born.
The 1960s saw a sudden spurt of Industrial activities that saw massive development in the Automobile industry which subsequently led to mushrooming of restaurants and fast-food chains. This necessitated the need to replace washable glassware with cheaper disposable packaging for meals and drinks on the go.
This paved the way for the replacement of Paper straws and the dominance of oil-based single-use plastic straws. As cost and convenience became crucial factors Plastic Straws started ruling the roost.
But as Plastic straws are made out of Polypropylene, a by-product of petrol it caused enormous damage to the environment and human health.
To cite an example the use of Plastic straws with acidic beverages resulted in an increase in estrogen levels in humans. While acceptable levels of Estrogen are required for Cardiovascular, reproductive system, and bone health, excess levels would result in severe damage to our body.
Regular use of Plastic straws resulted in
- Wrinkles – regular usage resulted in pucker lines near the mouth.
Added to this Plastic straws severely damage marine life as tens and thousands of plastic waste get dumped in the seas and oceans. These non-biodegradable straws break into microplastics which were consumed by fish and shellfish which ended up in the dinner plates and are consumed by humans and thus causing severe health issues.
This forced the doyens of the Industry to look for an alternative and made them land on PLA Straws.
The beverage industry was going gaga over the invention and thought they finally found an answer to the ill effects of Plastic straws.
The PLA biodegradable straw is made of a new type of Plant-based and renewable material. This material is called PLA, also known as polylactic acid. Starch raw materials made from renewable plant resources such as corn, and cassava make the PLA Straws.
Is the PLA Straw really an answer to Plastic Straws and Paper Straws?
While there has been a lot of noise around the benefits of PLA straw, the sad truth is that it is not really the answer to what the industry has been looking for.
Common myths that surround the PLA straws busted:
- The common belief about the Shelf life of PLA straws is that they are long as that of Plastic straws. But the sad truth is otherwise. As per a study shelf life of PLA Straw is only 1 year, whereas Paper straws have a much higher shelf life, usually around 2 to 3 years.
- PLA straws were much-touted to be biodegradable, compared to Plastic straws. Here also the fact is that it is much more non-biodegradable than Plastic straws.
- As per Analysts of the Smithsonian, it takes 100 to 1000 years to decompose straws made out of PLA.
- The Recycling Industry finds it a nuisance as it requires a special process not only to decompose but also to segregate them. This leads to the Mindless dumping of the PLA straws and this causes the same amount of damage to the environment as well as to Marine Life as that of Plastic straws.
- Studies show that it requires 10 days of non-stop heating at @60 degrees Celsius to decompose the PLA straws. This is absolutely impossible.
- The very fact that PLA is Polylactic acid. This acid dissolves little by little and this leads to a raise in acidity in the environment which poses a health hazard.
- Finally, the very Process of making PLA straws results in more carbon emissions and landfills and mindless dumping after usage causes damage to the earth like its counterpart Plastic straws.
It’s frustrating that, with all the evidence of PLA straws being incredibly harmful to the ecosystem, many businesses and restaurants, and corporates continue to promote these PLA straws, simply because it is cost-effective compared to Paper straws.
But with a focus on the environment, Marine life, and Safe earth awareness the search for an option for eco-friendly, compostable straws is gaining currency.
The answer lies in switching back to paper straws, as the original inventor and the patent holder Marvin stone used paper for making straws. 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 proof of the pudding lies in eating. That’s the reason you have one of the leading manufacturers in Gujarat, UFLEX is making a huge investment to manufacture paper straws. The capacity as per the top official is close to 6 billion straws, which is a mind-boggling quantity.
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.