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plastic straws

BRC have for the first time introduced a section to the BRC packaging standard which focuses completely on the environment, rather than food safety, quality or legality. The new section is called pellet, flake and powder control in the plastics industry and it’s BRC’s response to plastic pollution.

There are a number of changes coming our way which will affect how we use plastic, such as charges for plastic cups, plastic bottle deposit return schemes and from April 2020 plastic straws, drinks stirrers and plastic cotton buds will be banned in the UK.

Read the press release for this here on the government website: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/gove-takes-action-to-ban-plastic-straws-stirrers-and-cotton-buds

The changes to reduce plastic pollution are going to have massive impact on the food industry, and therefore, over the coming articles we’re going to be looking at what we need to do to tackle these changes and come up with the alternatives and solutions to the problem. First, we’re going to look at plastic straws and see which alternatives are suited to specific applications, as it’s probably not going to be a one size fits all kind of solution…

So, what is the alternative to a plastic straw?

Please note, the carbon footprint for plastic is 3.31 kg CO2eq/kg*.  To compare the carbon footprints of the alternative you need to take into account the weight of the straw and also, how many times the straw will be used.

For example:

Material A has a carbon footprint of 10 kgCO2eq/kg, the straw weighs 1g and is single use. Therefore, the carbon footprint for this material is 1g, so this would be 10/0.001kg = 0.1 kgCO2eq per straw. As this straw is only single use, the carbon footprint per use per straw is 0.1 kgCO2eq.

Material B has a carbon footprint of 2 kgCO2eq/kg, the straw weighs 10g and can be used 100 times. Therefore, the carbon footprint for this material is 10g, so this would be 2/0.010kg = 0.2 kgCO2eq per straw. As this straw can be used 100 times, the carbon footprint per use per straw is 0.002 kgCO2eq.

You can see that even though the carbon footprint of material B is more than material A in single use, because the straw is heavier it makes the carbon footprint higher than material A. When you consider material B can be used many times, the overall carbon footprint per use is less. When looking at the carbon footprint figures below, please bear this in mind.

PAPER STRAWS

plastic straws

Recyclable: Yes, although the coating makes it difficult
Biodegradable: Decompose in approx. 45 – 90 days
Sustainability: Yes, as long as it’s produced from 100% recycled paper only
Carbon footprint: 1.49 kgCO2eq/kg; lightweight but single use*
Use: Single use
Mouthfeel:  Become soggy eventually
Safety concerns: None
Price: Cheapest option
Design: Many options for colour, design
Most suited application: Fast food chains
Manufacturers: Mainly made in China, however there are new manufacturers coming through such as: Huhtamaki PaperThe Paper Straw Co ,Transcend Packaging

HAY STRAWS

plastic straws

Recyclable: Yes, in garden waste
Biodegradable: Yes
Sustainability: Yes, a bi-product of wheat production
Carbon footprint: Minimal as natural and rapidly renewable
Use: Single use
Mouthfeel:  Will become soggy
Safety concerns: Issues with microbial and physical contamination from the straw itself.  Opens up a whole new world of allergen issues, as the straws are wheat based.
Price: Cheap option
Design: Not possible
Most suited application: Not suitable for food due to the hygiene issues
Manufacturers: Hay Straws!

BAMBOO STRAWS

plastic straws

Recyclable: Yes, in garden waste
Biodegradable: Yes
Sustainability: Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world. Farming it is completely sustainable and also brings an income to farmers in particularly poverty-stricken regions of Asia.
Carbon footprint: Minimal as natural and rapidly renewable.
Use: Can be multi-use as they are washable, but food safe cleaning is difficult
Mouthfeel:  ????
Safety concerns:  Microbial issues from cleaning
Price: Mid-range
Design: Can be etched with a design or text
Most suited application: Restaurants, hotels, bars where the straw can be re-used (where cleaning is validated)
Manufacturers: Jungle Straws: Jungle Straws

METAL STRAWS

plastic straws

Recyclable: Yes
Biodegradable: No
Sustainability: Yes, if recycled
Carbon footprint: 1.46 kgCO2eq/kg*
Use: Multi-use, food safe cleaning is possible, but you can’t see it’s visually clean inside
Mouthfeel: Good clean taste, conducts hot and cold
Safety concerns: Good, although if used in a conjunction with a glass, it may chip finer glassware
Price: Expensive
Design: Can be etched or printed on
Most suited application: Restaurants, hotels, bars where the straw can be re-used and for personal use
Manufacturers: No known certified suppliers at present, please feel free to advise so we can update this.

GLASS STRAWS

plastic straws

Recyclable: Yes
Biodegradable: No
Sustainability: Yes if recycled
Carbon footprint: 1.35 kgCO2eq/kg*
Use: Multi-use, food safe cleaning is possible, and you can’t see it’s visually clean inside
Mouthfeel: Good, like drinking out of a glass
Safety concerns: It will break, but they’re actually stronger than a drinking glass
Price: Expensive – premium
Design: Can be etched or printed, or look classy just plain
Most suited application: Restaurants, hotels, bars where the straw can be re-used and for personal use
Manufacturers: Vaso Glass Straws

* carbon figures taken from the ICE database: http://www.circularecology.com/ice-database-faqs.html

It would be great to add other manufacturers of the above products to this post, as a source for everyone to use.  If you are a manufacturer, or know anyone that does – then please add them to the reply box below or get in touch with me directly on kassy.marsh@techni-k.co.uk

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