Straws: Impact and Solution

Background and Purpose:
It is estimated that daily, Canadians use 57 million straws and Americans use 500 million (Government of Canada, 2020). One study suggests that up to 8.3 billion of these straws are polluting beaches globally (Gibbens, 2019). This project was conducted to study consumer perceptions on alternative straws and if a naturally sourced and environmentally friendly straw could be created with fewer disadvantages than plastic or paper straws. In this project, beeswax, rice and beeswax, and rose petals and sodium alginate straws were innovated, that are environmentally friendly, socially accepted, and economical. The hypotheses tested were that paper straws would be most disliked and the beeswax straws would be the most successful. If successful, this could help prevent future environmental contamination.
First, a survey was conducted to gather opinions on straw types and reasons behind preferences. Next, molds were produced to form the three alternative straws from: i) beeswax using a metal mould by heating the wax; ii) beeswax and rice following the same procedure but with powdered, uncooked rice mixed into the melted wax; and iii) sodium alginate by mixing sodium alginate with water, corn scratch, and rose petals before placing it in the moulds in a solution of water and calcium. Six replicates of each straw type were produced for a total of 18. A cost estimate for all straw types was done. Finally, the straws were tested for visual appeal, texture, rate of dissolving (cold and hot water), exposure to temperature and soda, and decomposition. The latter was tested by placing all straws in soil for one week with paper and plastic straws for comparison.
Results and Conclusions:
The survey, completed by 283 respondents, demonstrated that paper straws are disliked due to rapid dissolving in drinks and that plastic straws are disliked due to negative environmental impact, which supported the hypotheses. The survey also showed that metal, bamboo, silicone, and glass straws are fairly well liked, although people are aware of and concerned about safety and hygiene issues. The project was successful in producing three types of alternative straws. Tests showed that the wax straws were the most visually appealing because of their texture and feel, but the rose straws had a nicer colour. The rice straws had the highest melting point and after an analysis were shown to have the lowest manufacturing cost. All straws had similar results for soda and water exposure tests while rose straws had a significant increase in weight and decomposed most rapidly. In conclusion wax and rice straws have potential to be successfully marketed, while the rose requires further development.
We thank the help and support from many people and organizations including:
Dr. Ellen Pettigrew, Professor, Geography Program, UNBC, for advice. Suzanne Cornelis, Instructor in the CNC Medical Laboratory Technology Science program, for advice.
Mr. and Mrs. Stillwell, and Mrs. von Baer and Dr. Tannert, (Professor, School of Engineering, UNBC), for encouragement, editing, and advice.

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