During your search for plastic alternatives, you will come across many products that claim to be environmentally friendly. You may have seen wheat straw plastic products and asked yourself how anything with plastic in its name can be environmentally friendly. Let’s take a closer look to find out what it is, how it is made and what the environmental impact is.
So, what is Wheat Straw Plastic?
Wheat is a grain that is used to make flour. The wheat flour can be used in wide array of foods from cakes to cookies, bread, pasta, pancakes or for thickening sauces. During the harvest the wheat is separated from the straw and wheat straw is the byproduct that is left over. Wheat straw has very little nutritional value and can be used for livestock bedding but should be limited in the animal diet due to the poor nutrient profile.
Using wheat straw to make a plastic like substance, it is an ideal zero waste option, since you use a byproduct of the wheat crop.
Wheat straw contains lignin which can be broken down to create new products, including wheat straw plastics and paper products. One of the processes is to create polymers to create wheat straw plastic. Polymers are created industrially and naturally. Traditional plastics polymers come from crude oil, while wheat straw polymers are complete natural. Other natural polymers are for example your hair and nails.
How is Wheat Straw Plastic Made?
Straw contains lignin, which is a natural substance that keeps plants standing upright. When you break down lignin and combine it with sugar, it can be turned into a bioplastic.
Lignin is broken down by a bacterium that naturally occurs in the soils (Rhodococcus jostii). The bacteria produce acid, which breaks down the lignin without the use of any artificially produced products.
After the bacteria brake down the lignin, it can be mixed with sugar to form a plastic-like substance. Like any plastic it can then be molded into many shapes.
What are the environmental benefits of wheat straw plastic?
First and foremost, it is biodegradable. If you compost it at home, it will take 3-6 months to turn into compost due to the lower temperature in home composts. In municipal compost facilities, which reach higher temperature, it will only take 1-2 months.
It is a byproduct of the food production, which means that it is not specifically grown for the purpose of producing plastic. In addition, in certain areas of the globe, straw is still burned since it seen as a waste product. By using the wheat straw instead of burning it, you reduce CO2 emissions.
Wheat straw plastic product benefits
Wheat straw plastic is heat resistance of up to 220° Fahrenheit, which means it can be used for reusable mugs, travel mugs, bento boxes and plates.
The products are sturdy, durable, and easy to clean. You can use them to freeze food and they are microwave safe.
Like any plastic, you should not expose it to open flames or expose it for extended periods of time to sunlight, since it will damage the material.
Overall, wheat straw plastic is a good alternative to traditional plastics, with a low environmental impact.