A research team with partners from the UGA New Materials Institute and the RWDC Environmental Stewardship Foundation will develop a fully biodegradable plastic straw thanks to a $719,000 award from Singapore’s Temasek Foundation Ecosperity. The team worked to synthesize a food contact polymer that they will now attempt to develop into a commercially viable straw
Currently, there are few non-plastic straw alternatives available to consumers. Many plastics branded as “biodegradable” are made from plant-based material called polylactic acid, or PLA. PLA-based plastics are compostable in limited environments, but they do not fully degrade outside of these settings.
“Plastics made from PLA only degrade in industrial compostable settings under high temperature and humidity conditions,” said Jason Locklin, director of the New Materials Institute and a professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of chemistry, and the College of Engineering, who worked on the project. “Other types of plastic, which are petroleum-based, last forever. Less than 10 percent of these plastics are recycled. The 90 percent that aren’t recycled will ultimately fragment over time, and as micronized plastic, can end up in our soil, rivers and oceans—forever.”
Good work on developing alternative products as we all make the transition away from mass-scale wastefulness. Actions should follow realizations about the plastic pollution problem but tandem innovative solutions are not inevitable, thus the importance of the New Materials Institute, the RWDC, Ecoproserity and committed faculty like Jason Locklin. And until this new product is ready, just go ahead and skip the straw.
Image: from UGA work to stem ocean plastic pollution.