An edible straw made of seaweed could soon replace the plastic kind – and you may not even notice
- Loliware, an edible bioplastics company, launched a seaweed straw that dissolves over time as a replacement for plastic straws.
- Restaurants and bars are rapidly phasing out giving out plastic straws to customers.
- Unlike paper straws, Loliware's product looks, feels, and acts like plastic.
Plastic straws are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, with South African fast-food chains and hotels banning them, while other establishments now hand out straws only on request, or have switched to alternatives.
Now edible bioplastics company Loliware will begin rolling out seaweed straws at hotel chains like Marriott and events for beverage companies like Pernod Ricard. At the end of the year, they'll launch a product designed specifically for juice boxes. By the start of 2020, they'll begin offering small packs of straws for consumer purchase.
For the co-founder and CEO of Loliware, Chelsea Briganti, plastic straw bans are a "gateway" to raising awareness about the dangers of plastic waste.
In the US, around 500 million plastic straws a day wind up in landfills or in the ocean- enough straws to wrap around the earth two-and-a-half times. A 2017 report from Science Advances found that only 9% of the world's plastic waste is recycled, while around 12% is incinerated. The remaining 79% accumulates in landfills or the environment.
As plastic cups, utensils, containers, and packages make their way into nature, they can take around 400 years to biodegrade, endangering wildlife such as birds and marine animals.
As someone who grew up surfing in Hawaii, Briganti recognised that plastic alternatives were a way to preserve marine life. In 2015, she launched Loliware with co-founder Leigh Ann Tucker.
See also: We tested 5 alternatives to plastic straws and found a clear winner – with one important caveat
The company's first product was an edible cup that appeared on Shark Tank, but didn't quite resonate with consumers (people complained that it was too waxy or tough). Though the seaweed straw has a similar concept, Briganti said customers should think of it as a "guilt-free" alternative to plastic rather than something to devour.
"It can be eaten, but this is not a food per se, or a snack," she said. "Don't expect to eat your whole straw as if it's a candy."
Though Loliware isn't the first company to propose an compostable alternative to plastic straws, Briganti said seaweed functions better than paper, which can turn soft and mushy. Another popular substitute, straws made from polylactic acid (PLA) derived from corn starch or sugar cane, requires industrial composting facilities and essentially functions like plastic in the environment.
Loliware's sustainability adviser, Daniela Saltzman, said their straw "looks, feels, and acts like plastic," while Briganti said it has a "neutral" taste that's not salty like traditional seaweed.
Since the straws come without a label, it's likely that customers won't even know they're consuming something different, Briganti said.
After 18 hours of use, the straw will become soft and begin to "disappear," but it won't fully biodegrade until it's composted - or in the unfortunate event that it winds up as litter.
"We're not advocating [that] people throw Loliware straws into the ocean," said Briganti, "but if one ends up there by accident, it breaks down in a matter of weeks without any negative impacts on marine animals."
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