‘World’s most sustainable straw’ in development

Sulapac, a Finnish sustainable packaging company, and Stora Enso, a global renewable packaging manufacturer, have collaborated to create a prototype of a renewable and biodegradable straw.

The sample the two companies have produced is made up of Sulapac’s biocomposite material – consisting of wood and natural binders – designed for industrial-scale production and which can then be recycled at its end of life through industrial composting. It is also biodegradable when in a marine environment, unlike traditional plastic straws, which contribute to the eight million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans each year.

‘World’s most sustainable straw’ in development
Sulapac and Stora Enso's sustainable straw

Stora Enso and Sulapac introduced a demonstration of the sustainable straw at the 2018 Slush Conference, a global event for startups that enables a community of 20,000 tech enthusiasts to meet: this year, it has been held in Helsinki, Finland, over the last two days (4 and 5 December).

Suvi Haimi, Sulapac’s co-founder and CEO, said at the conference: “Today, we proudly announce that we are launching a demo for a recyclable, microplastic-free and marine biodegradable straw. This is the world’s most sustainable straw that can be produced on an industrial scale and we have jointly developed it with Stora Enso. Billions of plastic straws are produced and used every week. This straw has the potential to be a true game changer.”

Sulapac, winner of the 2017 European Green Alley awards for its innovative sustainable cosmetics packaging, signed a joint development agreement with Stora Enso in May 2018, which enabled the manufacturer to license its biodegradable materials and technology.

Annica Bresky, Executive Vice President of Stora Enso’s Consumer Board division, said: “This is an important step for Stora Enso and showcases our long-term commitment to gradually replace fossil-based materials with renewable solutions. Our collaboration with Sulapac is a great example of what we can achieve through partnership in terms of driving innovation to create sustainable solutions within the bioeconomy.”

Stora Enso is also part of Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE UK),  a group of 14 major companies collaborating to find a long-term and nationwide paper cup recycling solution.

Public angst over plastic straws

With more plastic predicted to be in the ocean than fish by 2050, traditional plastic straws have recently been at the forefront of growing public concern over single-use plastic waste, with research conducted on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) stating that 4.7 billion straws are used in England every year.

Over the last year in particular, a strong social aversion to the plastic straws has emerged, with even the Queen Elizabeth providing her approval for the ban of plastic straws across the royal estates.

A rising number of organisations have pledged to address this exemplar of single-use plastic waste, with the nationwide chain JD Wetherspoon banning disposable straws in September 2017; other food and drink chains (Wagamama, Marriott Hotels and Pizza Express) soon followed suit.

Unsurprisingly, the government has responded to the growing backlash towards straws as Michael Gove, Environment Secretary, launched a consultation on a potential plastic straw ban across England in October.

In November, a general plastics tax was announced in the Treasury’s Autumn Statement, for the manufacture and import of plastic packaging containing less than 30 per cent recycled plastic. This is to be introduced from April 2022 across the UK with the goal of reducing the production of virgin plastic.

However, with charities representing the disabled population within the UK, such as One in Five, arguing that straws are necessary for the people who cannot drink without the flexible and disposable items, the solution is not quite as simple as banning straws all together.

Many companies are beginning to pursue compostable alternatives, such as Waitrose, which earlier this year announced plans to replace all plastic fruit and vegetable bags with biodegradable alternatives. Sulapac and Stora Enso’s sustainable straw could be part of the flourishing market for biodegradable substitutes by re-thinking the materials we use in everyday items.

As Hannu Kasurinen, Senior Vice President and Head of Liquid Packaging and Carton Board at Stora Enso, said: “Eco-awareness is a strong driver for consumer demand, and our customers want help in replacing non-renewable materials. Different biocomposite solutions, such as renewable caps and closures and straws will be add-ons and a complement to our own consumer board portfolio, bringing additional value to our customers.”

Sulapac and Stora Enso hope to have their biodegradable straws commercially available by Spring 2019.

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