On October 1, 2020, the ban on the sale of single-use plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers came into effect in England. It forms a key part of Parliament’s strategy to eliminate plastic waste as part of its 25 Year Environment Plan. Here, Duncan Clark, head of business operations at natural biopolymer specialist Teysha Technologies, explores the available alternatives and the future role of earth-friendly plastics.
In England, approximately 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds are used every year. Many of these find their way into water systems, and eventually our oceans. To reduce plastic pollution, and prevent harm to marine life and the environment, England joined Scotland in banning the sale of these products.
In recent years, measures have been taken to reduce plastic usage, like banning the use of microbeads in cosmetics. The nationwide introduction of charges on single use shopping bags led to a 95 per cent reduction in plastic bag usage in supermarkets. However, more action is needed to meet global targets for reducing plastic pollution.
The latest ban leaves consumers seeking alternatives to traditional single-use plastic products. These include 100 per cent cotton swabs, wooden stirrers and metal or paper straws. These products reduce visible plastic pollution, but they have other costly impacts on the environment.
Manufacturers are attracted to plastic because it is cheap to produce. A study conducted by Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food found that production of metal, paper and cotton alternatives to plastic are pricier, but also create more harmful emissions. It concluded that paper bags must be used at least 43 times to have a more positive impact on the environment than single use plastic bags.
Alternatives to plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers help to tackle plastic in our water systems, but they need to have better carbon footprints to facilitate the comprehensive change the world needs. Furthermore, most plant-based bioplastics need industrial catalysts to break them down, but current recycling infrastructure does not accommodate this. Many are also manufactured using petrochemicals, albeit in smaller quantities, just like regular plastic.
While the ban is commendable, more action is needed to deliver sustainable change. A key problem is the cultural attachment we have built to plastic over decades. If plastic were invented today, it’s unlikely it would be approved as a product for single or short-term use. Therefore, we must consider biodegradable plastic alternatives to fill this need.
Following years of research, Teysha Technologies has achieved a landmark breakthrough second generation biopolymers creating a viable substitute for existing petroleum-based polycarbonates, or plastics.
Its technology uses a plug-and-play system that takes monomers and co-monomers, the natural building blocks that make up plastic, to create a polymer that works and functions in a very similar way to the plastic we’re used to. The difference is that the monomer feedstocks are derived from natural sources like starches and agricultural waste products, rather than hydrocarbon-based petrochemicals sourced from fossil fuels.
Teysha’s technology platform allows biopolymers to be physically, mechanically and chemically tuned to the needs of the product. This gives it a variety of uses in packaging, cosmetics and electrical appliances.
Finding sustainable alternatives, with low carbon footprints, to traditional plastic products must be a priority if we are to tackle climate change and create a sustainable future. Teysha’s innovative polycarbonate platform offers that alternative.