Single-use plastic straws are hard to get rid of, but a Vietnamese man may have come up with the best solution yet.
It’s grass. Just plain old grass. Well, not like the grass you find on your lawn, but a special type of grass that’s found only in Southeast Asia. It’s called Lepironia articulata, and it grows wild in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
The stem is hollow but stiff, which makes it sort of like a straw already. All you have to do is harvest it, cut it into the shape of a straw, and wash it, and you’ve got yourself a biodegradable straw.
And it’s a good thing too because plastic waste is a real problem. According to a UN report, 8 million metric tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year. Of that amount, perhaps 2,000 tons are strictly single-use straws, but they can be pretty devastating to marine wildlife as this particularly horrific video of a straw being extracted from a tortoise shows (WARNING: the images shown in the video can be pretty graphic and may not be suitable for younger audiences).
The United States, in particular, tosses 500 million straws per day. Straws, like most plastics, are not biodegradable, so they stay in the environment for decades. When they do break down it’s often into tiny microplastics that kill wildlife all up and down the food chain. They also release toxic chemicals over long periods of time. Plastic is just awful no matter how you cut it, so we need to get rid of it.
But straws are a problem: how will we drink our bazillion gallons of soft drinks without straws?
Tran Minh Tien, an inventory in Vietnam, saw the problem of plastic straws and also the solution in grass. He created his company, Ong Hut Co., to turn a wild grass into a replacement for the plastic straw.
The process is amazingly simple. First, you harvest Lepironia articulata, wash the stems, and then cut them into 20 cm tubes (or roughly 8 inches). Next, you use a metal tube to clean out the inside surface and then wash them again. Finally, wrap them up in bananas leaves and BAM! Fully biodegradable straw replacement.
The fresh straws will keep for a few weeks in the fridge, but that’s probably not great for industry. That’s why there’s also a dried version. After drying in the sun for a few days, the straws are then baked to remove all hints of moisture. These dried versions can last for up to 6 months in room temperature conditions.
Sadly, these straws are only for sale in Vietnam at the moment, and while they might one day get Vietnam off plastic straws, Ong Hut Co. doesn’t make nearly enough of them to supply the world. But there are plenty of deltas where this grass could be farmed, and if we really get in on the idea, we might one day kick plastic straws to the curb of history.
(via The Epoch Times)