TOKYO -- Japan's Nippon Paper Industries is looking to commercialize biodegradable drinking straws as durable as plastic ones by the end of this year, amid a growing global shift away from single-use plastics.
Conventional paper straws have a tendency to go soggy after prolonged use, and the smell of paper can affect taste. But Nippon Paper recently developed a prototype that overcomes these weaknesses and is just as functional as plastic ones, putting it a step ahead of international food packaging companies like Tetra Pak.
Other Japanese papermakers are also capitalizing on the trend away from plastic. Oji Holdings has developed a paper-based alternative to cling wrap, like what is used in households, using a special coating that prevents moisture and air from seeping in.
Oji will launch the paper wrapper next year, marketing it mainly to food producers. It hopes to close the price gap between the product and plastic wrap through mass production. The company will also soon start selling paper lids for disposable cups.
Roughly 400 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide a year, a third of it for packaging purposes, according to the United Nations and other sources. But the danger plastic waste poses to oceanic life has sparked a movement to cut back on disposable products. France will start banning single-use plastic tableware in 2020, and the U.K. plans to outlaw plastic straws and drink stirrers, as well as plastic-stemmed cotton swabs.
Corporations are stepping up to the challenge as well. Starbucks says none of its shops worldwide will offer plastic straws by 2020, while McDonald's is switching to paper straws in the U.K. and Ireland.