If you have to suck, use paper
By Ian Lifshitz, Vice President of Sustainability & Stakeholder Relations, Asia Pulp & Paper CanadaSustainability Plastic Asia Pulp and Paper
There have been a number of “Don’t Suck” campaigns
During a recent trip to the Dominican Republic a dark cloud hung over the family holiday. It had nothing to do with the sun, sea or sand – all were plentiful and beautiful. This was about straws! The kids, when served their highly-anticipated milk shakes, had to drink them without the customary straw. It is hardly the most difficult problem they will face in their lives but it certainly generated a lot of comments for the rest of our stay at the resort.
The hotel chain, like many other major companies have, correctly, jumped on the environmental bandwagon banning plastic straws. That’s because they are not biodegradable, difficult to recycle and often end up in oceans. If you do try to dispose of them through incineration, most likely toxins will end up in the atmosphere. So many multinationals have introduced a ban, or set a deadline for their withdrawal, that will soon make it difficult to get your hands on a plastic straw in many parts of the world.
To give you an idea of the size of the problem, just in Canada we throw away 57 million straws every day, roughly 40,000 straws every minute!
How did we create this problem?
The first use of straws can be traced back thousands of years but their popularity grew in the 1800s when actual straw was used to drink. While cheap, it did not last long in the liquid and did affect the taste of the drink. Towards the end of the century, in an effort to find something better, we had the first use of paper. During this period there were valid health concerns about contracting illnesses if a container was not properly sanitized and many people had an aversion to putting their lips to an ‘unknown’ container.
By the 1950s, the cheapness of plastics saw the item become ubiquitous pushing us towards the environmental issue we now face. While the plastic straw is not the biggest part of the global plastic pollution problem it is one that can be easily fixed. Afterall, do you really need a straw to enjoy a milkshake?
The push against the plastic straw
In recent years, the voices urging companies to reduce the use of plastic straws has grown louder. There have been a number of “Don’t Suck” campaigns. And that message appears to be working, as surveys suggest most Canadians are now in favour of a plastic straw ban.
The alternative: back to the future
To offer an alternative to those wanting to use a straw (including people with a disability who cannot sip from a rim) a research and development race is going on. The best option, because of its flexibility and biodegradable properties, is paper. The challenge is to make a straw that is durable and cheap enough in comparison with those made from plastic.
Earlier this year, Asia Pulp and Paper announced it was launching a new drinking straw paper in Latin America. The 100% virgin fibre is chlorine-free, PEFC-certified, meets FDA standards and can run on all straw converting equipment. The pure white of the paper offers a multitude of printing options.
The paper developed by APP is triple-layered so guaranteeing strength, flexibility, biodegradability and, most importantly, can hold liquids long enough to satisfy most drinkers.
While some environmentalists stress that plastics straws are only a fraction of the unrecycled plastic waste in the oceans, given the environmental crisis we now face, it can be argued every little change that causes less damage is helpful.
We do know that the benefits of replacing plastic straws will be vastly overshadowed once we have a cup that is completely biodegradable and recyclable. While we are getting close, having a container widely used without PE (polyethylene) coating will give everyone a cause to cheer, from the thickest milk shakes to hottest drinks.