A new biodegradable drinking straw, called a phade straw, is appearing in Dunkin’ stores in the U.S. Its manufacturer, WinCup says it’s meant to be composted at home or in an industrial facility. But it also knows you might not compost it at all — and that’s OK.
“No matter if it ends up in the ocean, on the beach, in your backyard, on the side of the road, and definitely in a landfill where there’s lots of bacteria living, phade will have a great end of life story,” said WinCup CEO Brad Laporte. “It turns back into organic matter.”
The new straws are made with PHA — polyhydroxyalkanoates — a material made by fermenting sugar or starch feedstock, in this case canola oil. Dunkin’ has been trying them out in about 250 stores across the U.S. since late last summer.
In the past, there have been three categories of alternatives to traditional straws. Paper straws often use non-biodegradable adhesives and become soggy quickly. Straws made of PLA, or polylactic acid, are made from renewable materials like corn starch or sugar cane. They’ve been used to replace traditional plastic straws in many instances, but they only compost in industrial facilities, which aren’t available everywhere. They also aren’t marine biodegradable, so if they end up in the ocean, they won’t break down. And restaurants can’t hand out a metal straw with your to-go latte.
WinCup, which makes disposable cups, bowls, containers and lids in addition to straws, spent about a year and a half working on the phade straw. The company, along with others, is investigating using PHA in other products.
PHA has been discussed as a potential solution for single-use plastic for years, but it hasn’t yet reached large-scale industrial production. The technology has been used in disposable personal care items like shampoo bottles, razors and utensils, as well as automobile carpets and home furniture, according to research by BloombergNEF.
Production costs are high because the raw materials are expensive, the process of making PHA can be complicated, and only small amounts are produced. Though PHA straws are cheaper to make than paper straws, Laporte said, and companies may be willing to pay more for a better straw, since it’s such a cheap item.
“A percentage upcharge on a $500 sofa is definitely different than a percentage upcharge on a half a penny straw,” Laporte said. “The market is more willing to pay that upcharge on a smaller ticket item.”