Grasping at bioplastic straws


Switzerland’s Sukano, a leading producer of additive and colour masterbatches and compounds for polyester and specialty resins, and NatureWorks have collaborated on the development of an eco-friendly material suitable for making drinking straws from.

nFormerly made of paper, modern day straws, are mainly made from polypropylene and present a variety of technical challenges for alternative new materials seeking to bring new functionality.

For example, the narrow, U-shaped straws for juice boxes must be articulated and have a high flexibility modulus. During manufacturing, edges must be cut smoothly to prevent unsafe sharp or rough rims, while visual aesthetics, such as transparency, are also critical. These are just a few of the many specifications new materials must meet for adoption into this market application.

The demand for disposable straws is expected to grow, driven in part by consumer demand for convenience, meals on the go, and the consumption of specialty drinks – hence the potential for materials thatprovide complete, responsible lifecycle solutions while providing the desired functionality is huge.

So when Sukano and PLA manufacturer NatureWorks, got together, a new, broad market
opportunity was born.

Bioplastics like polylactic acid (PLA) have long been viewed as sustainable in sourcing, manufacture and after-use – but, until today, they were unable to meet the market’s performance requirements to replace the use of polypropylene in this application. Sukano masterbatches reduce the brittleness of PLA, which allows precise cutting during production and avoids splintering and rough edges. Combining melt enhancer additives in Ingeo-based PLA masterbatches, Sukano’s concentrates promote dimensional stability and greater flexibility without cracking at temperatures of 110° to 120°C. The additive masterbatches formulations are also designed to maintain the high transparency required in straws.

"We are thrilled that this collaboration between key players in the value chain allows us to bring an innovative alternative to the market. Using our combined experience, we are able to modify Ingeo™ PLA to customize its performance for a new end market – providing benefits to consumers and companies," said Alessandra Funcia, Head of Marketing at Sukano.

"At NatureWorks, we are helping to rethink plastics. The replacement of conventional oil-based polypropylene by Ingeo in drinking straws is just one example of how bioplastics can help address sustainability, while still providing the high performance material required for this application," concluded Steve Davies, Commercial Director – NatureWorks Performance Packaging.;