Rice Straws Could Be Solution to Throw Away Plastics

Eco-friendly straws made with rice hulls. Photo: USA Rice

More and more businesses, consumers, and governments are looking for ways to decrease their single-use plastic consumption, and disposable plastic straws have become a lightning rod in the worldwide effort to reduce plastic waste. Recently, scientists and manufacturers have turned to a new revolutionary material that could make single-use plastics in the foodservice industry obsolete: rice. By selling eco friendly goods made from manufacturers who are serious about this industry and not try to label a product that is partly eco friendly. To have a greater chance at getting your current buyers to re-order from you, you should provide as much information as possible. Your partners will keep your advertisements and product reviews on their websites if your “percentage of returns” minimal. Your customers will be happy to shop again knowing they are getting a quality environmentally friendly product. As an eco friendly product review marketer, I like to find websites that provide as much information as possible. This saves me from having to contact their customer service department and ask them what fibers and colours are used to make their clothing, home wares or body care products. Eco friendly shoppers also want to go online, find that product which fits their needs and order it without having to verify first if the product is truly “eco friendly”. For those people who are interested in having others market their website or would like to promote products in this sustainable industry, please don’t use the “eco friendly” phrase if you just want to make a quick dollar to get a slice of the pie. Consumers get upset when they find out the product they bought is not 100% eco. They end up shopping elsewhere and your business gets a bad name. If you do have a genuine eco friendly product, specify it’s full description. I find products that are mentioned with eco friendly materials don’t include what dyes are used through the process. Company websites which include a detailed description of their items; have a higher chance at obtaining a sale or having the person bookmark their website and return to it, then those who write vague descriptions. eco-friendly products are referred to as the goods and services that people consume and or create, which inflict minimal or no harm to the environment. To make consumers more responsive, these kinds of produce are often marked with eco-labels. Eco-label is a labeling system for consumer-related goods, excluding food and medicine-food has a different form of eco-labeling-that are made in a manner that avoids damaging the environment. The labeling of eco-friendly products has been instituted in a number of developed states to aid in the protection of the ecosystem. However, for the reason that there is no single international standard for this concept, the International Organization for Standardization regards such labels too imprecise to be significant. Thus, eco-labeling is voluntary, and not enforced by law. An example of a labeling that is obligatory is the Green Sticker, mandated by law in North America where they are tagged on major pieces of equipment and automobiles. For research and development of new products and technology, a simple way to assessing eco-friendly products is implemented through the planning stage, the manufacturing stage, and the production stage. There is a method called Life-Cycle Assessment which is used to quantitatively calculate the ecological effects of a product through all the phases it undergoes, including material procurement, construction, circulation, use, and disposal. The first step to assessing and achieving eco-friendly products is to have a standard Life-Cycle Assessment program. Identifying and creating a desired concept to fit in to a product before starting with its research, blueprint, and or development is a good way to go. To correctly set objectives, pick out existing products which can be compared with the new product specifications, execute the standard method of assessment needed, and utilize the outcome. When the product specifications are clear, estimate the consumption of energy and perform the assessment standards to see whether the target will be attained. In producing a product massively, perform the Life-Cycle Assessment based on real measurement statistics such as yield and energy utilization, and evaluate the ecological responsiveness of the product. The purpose of having Assessment Procedures and Standards is to encourage manufacturers and importers to lessen the harmful effects of their goods to the world. It also imparts significant information to consumers that allows them to take account of environmental factors in their purchase decisions and give them an opportunity to become more environmentally aware and responsible. Therefore, the main goal and objective of assessing and achieving eco-friendly products in this case-setting a set of standards-is to ultimately improve the value of the natural world and to promote the sustainable supervision of natural resources.

Rice contains cellulose, a primary component of the cell walls of plants. It’s also a strong biopolymer with a range of properties that can be manipulated into a variety of textures, from rigid and brittle to soft and stretchy. In 2014, scientists at the Italian Institute of Technology developed a new technique to create durable, plastic-like material from cocoa pod husks, spinach and parsley stems, and rice hulls.

While plastic straws can take up to 200 years to decompose, rice straws are 100 percent natural, biodegradable, compostable, affordable, and even edible; some rice straws can be cooked and consumed like a rice noodle. And best of all, they last for up to 18 hours and don’t disintegrate or affect taste like paper straws or other eco-friendly straw options.

Right now, rice straws are only being manufactured in Asia, but Canada-based Rice Straw Technologies hopes to change that.

“Currently, our straws are manufactured in Vietnam and Thailand, but our ultimate goal is to manufacture them in the U.S. within a couple of years,” said Michelle Kim, president of Rice Straw Technologies. “Using U.S.-grown rice will save us a lot of transportation and customs costs, and on top of that we can utilize our local farmers.”

Additionally, the hefty carbon footprint of shipping rice straws all the way to North America from Asia somewhat negates the environmental benefit of reducing plastic waste, so it is only a matter of time before the straws are widely produced in the U.S. for American consumers. Contributing to sustainability and conservation is Rice Straw Technology’s top priority.

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“Plastic straws may not seem like a big deal, but at the end of the day, it adds up to a lot of plastic in the landfill,” said Kim. “Our straws are made with rice, tapioca, and no other additives, so when they go out to the landfill, we’re literally feeding the birds.”

The U.S. rice industry is already committed to feeding the birds, so biodegradable plastic alternatives made from U.S. rice that are safe for wildlife to consume would fit right into existing conservation and sustainability efforts.

It doesn’t end with straws. Rice Straw Technologies already has prototypes for shopping bags and cutlery made with rice, and is working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to get approved as an edible food product.

“We’re working on changing people’s small habits. Because even small changes can affect the environment in a big way,” said Kim.

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