The biodegradable paper straw

The biodegradable paper straw on IKEA’s Lingonberry drink may be small, but it’s a big step for a sustainable future. It’s also the result of the innovative cooperation between Tetra Pak and BillerudKorsnäs and a solution that meets the EU directive against single-use plastics.   

Considering the challenges involved, the progress from idea to production has been impressively speedy. The first plans for a biodegradable straw made from cellulose fibre based materials were drawn last summer when BillerudKorsnäs was the chosen partner for the straight straw project. Twelve months later the result of the innovative collaboration between Tetra Pak and BillerudKorsnäs is already available in stores. While Tetra Pak has been responsible for the development of the machine technology, BillerudKorsnäs’ main contribution is material expertise.

“From a sustainability point of view paper straws are an ideal solution that also meets all the requirements involved in the ban on single-use plastics that come into force in all EU member states by 2021”, says Andreas Nordell, Business Development Manager at BillerudKorsnäs.

100 billion portion packs with straws

As Tetra Pak annually produces more than 100 billion portion packs with straws all over the world, it is imperative to find new solutions to secure the business. However, to develop a cellulose fibre based paper straw is easier said than done.

“There are many challenges involved and we tried several different materials and combinations before we had a satisfying and tailor-made solution. This paper straw fulfils the requirements for food safety, it´s biodegradable, renewable and recyclable”, says Andreas Nordell.

Regarding functionality a plastic straw is water repellent, durable and robust. To find similar properties in cellulose fibre based materials requires several layers that have been twined together. The surface of the inner and outer layers has to be as hydrophobic and water repellent as possible to make the straw durable. The multiple layer construction is needed to give the necessary stability to keep the pipe shape and to penetrate the foil.

“This first generation straw was produced in the US. The plan is to scale up the production in Portugal where Tetra Pak is setting up a new generation of more efficient straw machines. At present the straight paper straw for the organic Lingonberry drink is available only as a field test and at the Ikea store in Malmö, Sweden”, says Andreas Nordell.

Bendable straws made from FibreForm

This straight paper straw will not be able to replace plastic straws needed for all formats of portion packs. The length of the straight paper straw will, for example, not be sufficient when fitted diagonally on the slim package formats.

“Hence we have presented Tetra Pak a possible way to produce bendable and biodegradable straws made from our unique FibreForm board material, called U-Bend Straw”, says Andreas Nordell.

The U-Bend could be yet another step towards a non-plastic and more sustainable future. The U-Bend straw is 180 degrees bendable. It’s also durable and recyclable. BillerudKorsnäs has recently filed a patent of the U-Bend paper straw in cooperation with The Paper Straw Company, in Manchester, UK. FibreForm is our patented and uniquely shapeable paper that is based on materials from sustainably sourced forests. Like the straight straw it is also biodegradable, resulting in a positive impact on pollution and littering compared to plastic straws.

This is internal info for Tetra Pak only.

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