Wheat Straw environmentally friendly? ‘Wheat Straw’ aka ‘Corn plastic’ is a bioplastic. Sounds promising, like it’s got ‘bio’ in the word, it must legit.
Ok, so this is how it works. You harvest the wheat to get grain for making stuff like bread. What’s left after harvesting is called straw, the stems that humans generally don’t eat. Around the world, hundreds of millions of tons of straw are created every year. So let’s see, you take a widely available natural material and turn it into a replacement for plastic. Perfect. Well, not quite.
The first problem with bioplastics is that they create methane as they biodegrade – if they ever biodegrade at all. Methane is public enemy number one; a so-called ‘greenhouse’ gas which does its best to screw up our atmosphere. Farting cattle and all that.
Some bioplastics don’t decompose without exposure to UV light or high temperatures. Furthermore, bioplastics can’t be easily recycled into something else.
Then there’s the wheat you started with. Was it genetically modified? Was it intensively farmed, with all the issues that come with that?; pollution, soil erosion. A significant proportion of grain production in the U.S. is now grown for biofuel or bioplastic production. Is the production of bioplastics having an impact of grain prices and what does that mean for poorer people?
It’s the usual ‘econundrum’. The law of unintended consequences. Some clever-clogs figures out how to make a replacement for plastic out of a natural material, only to create a new set of problems as a result.
Should we offset some a bioplastic’s drawbacks against the positive message it seeks to convey? Or put another way, is a wheat straw promotional product a bit better than a standard plastic promotional product? Answer: probably.