Source: Two Sides
The scourge of plastic straws is a hot button issue for environmental campaigners, and it won’t be long until they are banned altogether. But what will we use to sip our sangrias? Natalie Stephens, group MD of Optichrome, explains why paper straws are the best alternative.
On the evening of Sunday 10 December, 2017, Natalie Stephens settled down to watch the final episode of Blue Planet II. Along with 14 million other viewers (it was one of the most watched shows of 2017), she was horrified at the footage of marine life being trapped, suffocated and killed by the plastic pollution in the ocean.
“I just love the ocean,” she says. “I spend a lot of time in it, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a turtle pop up next to me while in the ocean in Barbados. Watching that episode of Blue Planet brought me to tears.”
Natalie wasn’t alone. A survey by the BBC showed that 62% of people who saw the episode wanted to make changes in their daily lives to reduce pollution in our oceans. But unlike most people, as the Group Managing Director of print company Optichrome, Natalie was in a position to do something that could make a real difference to the amount of plastic waste.
After the successful decrease in the use of plastic bags, the next government initiative to cut single-use plastic is likely to be straws. The Marine Conservation Society estimates that the UK uses 8.5 billion plastic straws ever year, and they are among the top ten waste items found on British beaches. And like other plastics, they take decades to degrade – some reports estimate that a single plastic straw takes 200 years to break down.
“The UK uses 8.5 billion plastic straws ever year, and they are among the top ten waste items found on British beaches”
“The problem with plastic straws is that yes, you can recycle them, but you need to put them in the right place,” explains Natalie. “And even if they go to a recycling plant, because they are so small, they fall out of the recycling packages and still end up in the ocean.”
The solution is paper straws. Faced with a customer backlash against plastic, over the past six months a number of huge, international companies have announced that they will replace their plastic straws with paper ones. McDonald’s, Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Pret A Manger, along with hundreds of smaller chains, have all pledged to remove plastic straws from their outlets. This follows the outright banning of plastic straws in a number of major cities around the world and US states, with the UK set to follow suit.
“The government has been threatening to bring in a ban on plastic straws for a long time,” says Natalie. “Theresa May made a speech last year about it and Michael Gove is really backing the initiative. So I think we will be in the situation where plastic straws are banned, which is a situation that a number of states in the US have been in for a while now. The market for paper straws over there has gone crazy.”
Like the packaging industry, this ban on single-use plastics is not only good news for the environment, but good news for the paper and print industry. With the right paper grade and production quality, paper straws are a great alternative to plastic, and as a company with enviable environmental credentials, Paper Straw Group – a division of Optichrome Group – are in an excellent position to grab a slice of the market.
“We are a very environmentally conscious company,” explains Natalie. “We have ISO accreditations and are one of just a few printers in the UK that has EMAS [Eco-Management and Audit Scheme]. The environment has always been extremely important to us as a business, but also important to me personally.”
Having spent years researching the area, the company has finally honed the production of their range of paper straws, straws that are both practical and environmentally friendly.
“This is where our expertise in paper comes in,” explains Natalie. “We source our own paper, so we make sure that we’re producing the strongest straw we possibly can. There’s no coating, and we have researched thoroughly to make sure there are no micro-plastics in the glue. The straws are recyclable, compostable and biodegradable, and leave no footprint whatsoever.”
Right now, Paper Straw Group are in talks with a number of businesses, putting the final details to orders from hundreds of straws to millions. They have the capacity to produce up to two million straws every week, but expect this to increase with the inevitable demand.
“The potential market is huge,” says Natalie. “It’s anywhere that uses straws, so pubs, restaurants, cinemas, high street food and drink chains – anywhere you can buy a drink needs paper straws. It’s also my personal passion and something that fits nicely with the industry we’re already in, as well as the fact that we’re doing something positive for the environment.”