Updated: Jul 6, 2019
I was discussing alternatives to plastic the other day and often 'plant based' 'corn starch' 'cellulose' are mentioned. The material Polylactic Acid (PLA) that comes from corn starch has really taken off in the last year as people have been trying to reduce the amount of plastic that they consume.
Who has been into a bar to be given a straw that looks and feels like a plastic straw? Have you had that moment where you pick up the straw and the person in the bar or restaurant reads the look of worry on your face. A quick exclamation of:
"These straws are plant based!"
Or even better, a set up like this to save time explaining what the straws are.
The refreshing green straws, the recycling symbol to put you mind at ease. We need to bare a few things in mind:
We cannot recycle plant based plastic and it will actually destroy the integrity of good quality recyclable plastic, if mixed.
If you ask most of these places where their PLA goes, the answer is the bin. If this happens then that PLA straw or cup will go to landfill where it will end up staying forever, just like normal plastic.
The proper way of disposing of a PLA products is to send them to a commercial composting facility, where there are broken down under extreme conditions.
This process costs money, as PLA is to a compost heap what lettuce is to a starving child. Meanwhile plastic has a value to recyclers. So there is no added cost to disposal.
This is where we need knowledge and understanding and where should this come from?
The person in the bar proudly telling me the PLA straw is compostable, and then putting it in the bin. They haven't been told otherwise. Who bought the straws for the restaurant? Did they know when they were sold the straws that they needed to be industrially composted.
Is the onus on the bar/resto/cafe. People who are trying to do the right thing? Potentially at the cheapest cost but looking to eliminate plastic straws at the same time, is it their responsibility to find out where they should be putting PLA products when they are finished with them.
Or is it on the supplier should they be making sure that the businesses they are selling to has systems in place to be able to make sure PLA is properly disposed of.
I asked one well known PLA brand about this and they said:
"We work hard to build closed loop solutions for our customers, driving change within the waste industry. Even if a customer cannot access composting, the UK’s waste infrastructure means that the majority of waste is incinerated at present. When Vegware is incinerated as its made from plants, the material carbon is taken from atmospheric CO2 during the growing season and during incineration this carbon flows back as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."
Now reading betwix the lines this to me sounds like; we will sell to anyone because if we sold only to people willing to make sure these products are disposed of properly, we would see a considerable decrease in product sales and hey ho! It doesn't matter if it all gets burned in the end.
If everyone who was using PLA straws had to dispose of the waste properly their waste management costs would increase, PLA costs money to go into a compost heap. Would that £9.14 pack of 400 straws be as appealing.
What if there was an option that made life easy, meant that your bar staff didn't have to rapidly try and explain that the straws were fake plastic, imagine if there was a straw made out of a waste material, that had no cost to the environment before or after its use. Looked fantastic in a drink and if it ended up in landfill, the ocean or a birds nest it wouldn't matter. If you want that kind of straw in your life or in your business all you have to do is click here.