Smart Plastic Technologies LLC (SPT) says it has developed two products — an additive and a material — that cause plastic to rapidly degrade in response to businesses seeking alternatives to plastic straws, which may be used for only a matter of minutes yet litter land and waterways for eons.
Best Diamond Plastics LLC in Chicago turned to the Knoxville, Tenn.-based company to come up with a solution for its fast-food customers, including McDonald's, which has a goal of sourcing all packaging and straws from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025.
Founded 10 years ago on the city's South Side, the minority-owned company has heard from other buyers of its polypropylene straws and stirrers like Wendy's, Dairy Queen, Portillo's and Jack in the Box.
“They're all interested in a better mousetrap,” Best Diamond President Mark Tolliver said in a phone interview. “They want something all their customers will accept, not just some.”
The public outcry against single-use plastics continues to mount with drinking straws dubbed “the quintessential nonessential” and “plastic relics.”
A YouTube video of a turtle with a straw lodged in its nose and images of shorelines awash with plastic and skeletons of sea birds with plastic-filled bellies are moving individuals, cities and corporations to action.
Starbucks will eliminate plastic straws at its 28,000 stores by 2020. The company designed a strawless PP lid for iced coffee, tea and espressos and will switch to paper or compostable plastic straws made from polylactic acid for Frappuccinos. The changes will eliminate the need to produce more than 1 billion plastic straws per year and discard them into a waste stream never really equipped to recycle the thin extruded products.
American Airlines is also on board. The airline will serve drinks with biodegradable straws or wooden stir sticks starting at airport lounges and then in November offer bamboo replacements on its 14,250 daily flights. The moves will reduce the airline's plastics use by more than 71,000 pounds of per year.
McDonald's is looking at several alternatives for its 37,000 stores in 100 countries. The company will switch to paper straws by 2019 in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The U.K. plans to ban all sales of single-use plastics as early as next year and synthetic straw sentiments are changing next door in Ireland, where the coastal town of Westport made a voluntary commitment to use biodegradable straws starting June 1.
McDonald's is also testing plastic straw alternatives in Belgium and later this year will do the same in the United States, France, Sweden, Norway and Australia. And in Malaysia, the company will test out a plan to offer straws upon request only.
“We understand that recycling infrastructure, regulations and consumer behaviors vary from city to city and country to country, but we plan to be part of the solution and help influence powerful change,” McDonald's spokeswoman Andrea Abate told Plastics News in an email.
McDonald's was the first customer of Best Diamond, which opened in 2008 with five employees and has grown to 76. Tolliver is determined to keep his customers and employees while meeting demands from the public.
“I believe in preserving the planet. We only have one,” Tolliver said. “We're trying to do everything we can to be a contributor to the solution as opposed to being a contributor to the problem. I'm sure there's a solution that's a win-win, and we're looking to find it. I'm a cup half-full kind of guy.”
That's where SPT comes in. Satisfying quality requirements for fast-food chains that serve a variety of hot, cold, foamy and frozen beverages while meeting eco-friendly expectations of the world seems like a tall order. However, SPT CEO Tim Murtaugh said in phone and email interviews that the challenge has been met in two ways that render plastic biodegradable.