Science & Tech

A plant-based alternative to plastic straws

With Canada set to ban single-use plastics by 2022, products made of cellulose — a major component of plants — could be the ideal alternative

  • Mar 09, 2020
  • 325 words
  • 2 minutes
plastic straw alternative Expand Image
Advertisement

Researchers from McGill and Lakehead Universities are on a mission to replace the everyday single-use straw. 

Mostly made of plastic, straws are on the chopping block in Canada as the country aims to ban single-use plastics by 2022. While replacements for plastic bags and packaging already exist, the most common alternative to a plastic straw is a paper one, especially in commercial establishments like restaurants. 

So Theo van de Ven, Jean-Philip Lumb and Md Nur Alam got to work, designing a prototype drinking straw made from cellulose. The trio created TreeMaTech, a startup company, to form their prototype from a material they’ve dubbed ‘Cellophax.’

“The main component is cellulose, slightly modified chemically,” says van de Ven about the prototype. “Other components are a plasticizer and a food dye [for coloured straws].”

Van de Ven says one of the many benefits of cellulose straws over a paper alternative is that they don’t disintegrate when you’re trying to use them.

“Paper straws get soggy when wet,” says van de Ven. “Our straws don’t. They can even be used for hot drinks.”

The straws are both biodegradable and recyclable — they can be thrown away after use, or dissolved in an alkaline solution to make new straws or other cellulose-based products. They aren’t yet commercially available, but van de Ven says they think the straws could be made in bulk for about half a cent each. 

For TreeMaTech, “the sky’s the limit,” says van de Ven, pointing to future work replacing plastics in all kinds of things, from bags and bottles to gloves and cups.

Learn more about TreeMaTech and what they’re up to with plastic replacements.

Advertisement

Are you passionate about Canadian geography?

You can support Canadian Geographic in 3 ways:

Related Content

Environment

Bioplastics: Don’t let the label fool you

Doing your part as an eco-conscious consumer doesn’t end once you buy a bioplastic product

  • 1626 words
  • 7 minutes
Mass of floating seaweed with bits of plastic stuck in it, in the ocean

Environment

How companies and communities are fighting the problem of plastic pollution

Fast food chains, municipalities and even Ikea have recently pledged to phase out single-use plastics 

  • 884 words
  • 4 minutes
Array of single-use plastics arranged by colour

Environment

11 Earth-friendly alternatives to common plastic items around the house

Want to cut down on household plastic waste? Start with these alternatives to everyday items in your kitchen and bathroom.

  • 1122 words
  • 5 minutes
Ocean Bridge participant Hannah Kosick holds colourful microplastics picked up on T’aalan Stl’ang. (Photo: Conner McDowell)

Environment

Canada to ban single-use plastics by 2021

Ban on plastic bags, cutlery, straws, stir sticks and more announced as part of federal government strategy to combat plastic pollution

  • 781 words
  • 4 minutes