The final straw: rising plastic alternatives
The plastic straw ban in the UK, now delayed due to Covid-19, has been the cause of a rise in plastic alternatives. Jessie Paige gives an overview of the current situation, and how companies both small and large are gearing up for the inevitable implementation of the policy.
In the UK,
plastic straws were set to be banned in April 2020 alongside other plastics, such as drink stirrers and cotton buds.
The law was confirmed in May 2019, following an open public consultation that saw 80% of respondents back the ban for distribution and sale of plastic straws. Since then, plastic alternative straw businesses have seen a significant rise in market share.
Although the ban has now been delayed to October due to the coronavirus pandemic, plastic alternative straw businesses have already seen a change in the market.
Plastic alternative startups on the rise
One plastic alternative straw business, Stroodle, is ready for the plastic straw ban to take place and is eager for consumers to switch to eco-friendly alternatives.
Stroodle is a pasta-straw business on a mission to move people’s lifestyles away from plastic and towards an environmentally-friendly alternative. The company was founded in 2018 and has seen a significant change since plastic straws became a mainstream topic.
“My business has very much been affected by the plastic straw ban," Stroodle CEO and founder Maxim Gelmann says. "During this ongoing anti-single-use plastic campaign, the straw has been the main enemy. The focus is on straws and that’s why there was such an uptake. The attention definitely accelerated my business.”
Gelmann expects the attention on his business to increase even more so when the ban officially comes into effect. He hopes that he’ll be able to pursue national supermarkets and create a buzz around Stroodle, as word of mouth is very important for the growth of his business.
“From a business perspective, as an alternative straw, consumers are not just buying a straw but a story. My character Mr Stroodle is, in some ways, an educational tool,” he says. “It’s as much a marketing investment as it is a product. Anyone who sees the product in a bar, for example, might talk about it. From that perspective, Stroodle is also a PR marketing tool.”
Stroodle straws are made from wheat and water and are fully edible and vegan, though not suitable for those who are gluten-free. Gelmann claims that they are strong and have many of the same benefits as a plastic straw, such as good longevity when placed in liquid.
more attention on plastic alternatives
Gelmann had heard of the plastic straw regulation when starting his business, but he says this wasn’t the motivation to go forward with the product. He says that he founded Stroodle to help consumers and companies alike switch to eco-friendly alternatives, with straws being just the first step.
“I came across pasta tubes [being] used for fun, and the simplicity of it triggered the thought process in my head - that I need to take this to the wider market,” he says. “I’m not a straw company, per se, I’m there to fight plastic waste, and straws are the first channel.
“I’m trying to show people how easy it is to make small changes to help the environment. That was the motivation to start Stroodle; I want to change people’s lifestyles.”
It seems obvious that the plastic straw ban will have a huge effect on Stroodle’s business, and the host of similar plastic alternative companies that have recently come to prominence, especially when it comes to market presence.
“For me, I see myself as the go-to alternative because stroodle has all the benefits of the plastic straw, unlike paper straws which disintegrate too easily,” Gelmann continues. “Comparing Stroodle to a paper straw is not really like for like. Yes, it is a straw, but it is so much more. It’s bigger than that.”
The attention that companies such as Stroodle are set to gain will especially help Gelmann in his main goal: to help the environment and inspire a switch away from plastic.
big firms offering plastic alternatives
Another business making plastic alternative straws is Tetra Pak. Gaining attention isn’t a top priority for the liquid food processing and packaging giant, but rather meeting consumer needs. The multinational’s philosophy, ‘protect what’s good’, is important to the company when making products.
Similarly to Stroodle, Tetra Pak created its alternative straw product, a paper straw, with environmental issues in mind. Alejandro Cabal, vice president of packaging solutions & commercial operations at Tetra Pak tells Inside Packaging: “We wanted to deliver a product that contributes to a low-carbon circular economy while not compromising our strict food safety and ease-of-use requirements.
“In order to deliver a low carbon circular economy, we are focusing on four areas: delivering a package with the lowest comparable carbon footprint, delivering highly effective equipment and solutions, minimising our operational impact, and working with partners to dramatically increase recycling and reuse.
“The paper in our straws is recyclable with the rest of the package, as our objective is to secure food safety and quality criteria, while minimising the environmental impact,” Cabal continues. “For the paper straw, we are working with specialists in different areas such as material specification and sourcing, manufacturing, application, and distribution.
“We have also been assessing technical advancements and working with several technology leaders to explore biodegradable options.” Cabal adds that Tetra Pak's paper straws have passed product development tests to ensure the product meets food safety standards and functionality requirements.
When asked how the company’s business has been affected since the plastic straw ban gained mainstream attention, Cabal responded that “Tetra Pak is always evolving and innovating as a business".
"We’re pleased that we’ve been able to support our customers in delivering a fully functional, recyclable paper straw that meets internationally recognised food safety standards.
“Since we announced our paper straw, we are progressively building up our capacity to meet the global demand from our customers interested in using paper straws, starting with production at our plant in Lisbon, Portugal.“
When the plastic straw ban comes into effect later this year, large companies like Tetra Pak and smaller businesses like Stroodle will be there, ready to become the go-to products for consumers. The ban will especially help smaller businesses, as attention will only continue to grow, changing the straw market as we know it.
Our objective is to secure food safety and quality criteria, while minimising the environmental impact