Plastic straw alternatives causing a big stir in Australia

Startup Mister RYE has formed a partnership with a nearby organic rye grower to produce low-impact, non-plastic straws.

It’s truly amazing just how many natural materials can be turned into straws. In addition to glass (yes, it’s natural and made from sand) and metal (yes, the ore to make steel and aluminum comes from the earth), there are straws made from avocado pits and, now, rye.

A startup in Australia founded last April as part of the University of Adelaide’s new ThincLab Waite incubator program, Mister RYE makes straws from, yes, rye. Founders Marion Vigot and Alexis Branlard formed a partnership with an organic rye grower about 120 miles east of Adelaide and plan to make their straws available commercially in January.

Vigot noted in an article posted online that although there are a number of alternative straws on the market, including bamboo and metal, “no other producer [is] working with local farmers in such a low-impact way.

“They are just basically importing alternatives that still have a high carbon footprint because of high-emission manufacturing, plastic packaging and the huge distances they are being shipped to Australia,” he said.

Well, I doubt that Australia is actually importing straws, since there are many straw manufacturers operating on that continent. A quick Google search turned up WF Plastic Pty Ltd., which makes both paper and plastic straws; Stroh, which produces straws from wheat stems; and Bamboo Straws Australia, which works with local farmers on the island of Phu Quoc to get the bamboo to make its straws. There are a number of others, too.

There are plenty of natural products that can be used to make straws, but few of them are as eco-friendly as plastic, which is also made from a “natural” substance from the earth and takes less energy to produce than the alternatives.

The goal of Mister RYE to become a “zero waste business” is admirable, but it needs to take into account the entire process chain of growing, harvesting and shipping rye stems 120-some miles to be further processed—Vigot and Branlard do not describe how—into single-use drinking straws.

My question is this: If rye, wheat or bamboo straws get into the environment, either on land or in the ocean, how long will it take them to degrade and what are the odds that sea life will get a bamboo, wheat or rye straw stuck up its nostril? I’ve used some of these alternative-material straws, and they are thick and strong enough to injure a sea creature.

Let’s face it: Waste pollution, whether it’s a plastic straw or one of the myriad other straws made from a variety of natural resources, is put into the environment by humans who obviously show little to no concern for their environment.

Image: Aleoks/Adobe Stock

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