Compostable Materials

Wheat Straw: A Valuable Resource

Wheat Straw: A Valuable Resource

Hundreds of different fibrous plants can be manufactured into alternatives to tree-based paper products, most notably wheat, rice, hemp, flax, and sugar cane. In many agricultural processes, straw is treated merely as the agricultural waste that remains after grain or juice is extracted from crops. For World Centric®, straw is a valuable resource that can be fashioned into disposable products like plates, take out containers, bowls etc.

Benefits:

  • Sturdy and strong
  • Microwave and freezer safe
  • Handle hot liquids up to 200 Fahrenheit
  • Conform to US Food & Drug Administration guidelines
  • Non-allergenic and gluten-free
  • Fully compostable through home and commercial composting (composts completely in commercial facilities in 1-2 months)1
  • Fully compostable at home within 6 months (though not certified for home composing)1

Humans have used various grasses and reeds to make paper for thousands of years. The very word “paper” derives from “papyrus,” a reed that was used by ancient Egyptians in making paper. The ancient Chinese also developed methods for making paper from plant fibers, taking advantage of the vast quantities of straw that are generated in a rice-based agricultural economy. Only in the last century have trees been the primary source of fiber used in making paper worldwide. Even so, tree-based paper has rapidly expanded to dominate the worldwide market. Only 5-10% of paper worldwide currently derives from agricultural crops, the rest derives from trees.2 However, tree-based paper is less dominant in developing countries, where the U.N. estimates that over one-third of paper production is based on agricultural crops.3

Paper production that is based on agricultural crop waste offers numerous important environmental and economic advantages over tree-based paper production.

Advantages of making paper from agricultural waste instead of trees include:

  • Protects forests: While 5 tons of wood are needed to produce 1 ton of pulp for paper, only 1.5 tons of straw are needed to produce the same amount.3 Too much wood from virgin forests is consumed by the paper industry. Even though the majority of whole trees used in making paper come from “plantation forests,” 10% of whole trees consumed by the paper industry are logged in virgin forests. A shift from wood-pulp to straw-pulp in making paper would take pressure off wild forests and the species that live in them. For example, Canadian Geographic estimated that Canada’s wheat harvest alone could produce 8 million tons of straw-pulp annually, which could save 100 million trees each year.4
  • Fewer toxic chemicals: Agricultural crops are easier to turn into pulp than wood is, and consequently, they require smaller quantities of toxic solvents to turn them into pulp for paper-making.5
  • Renewable and sustainable: Unlike virgin forests, which are endangered by human “harvesting,” agricultural waste will be readily available as long as humanity engages in agriculture. Agricultural waste like straw can make a side-trip from the cycle of life to serve as paper, then re-enter the cycle as compost to nourish new crops.
  • Less energy: Heavy-duty industrial processes are required to turn wood into paper. A wood pulp mill costs 5 times as much as a straw pulp plant, and it uses 10 times the energy.3
  • New revenue for farmers: Directing agricultural waste into paper manufacturing provides an additional income stream for farmers, without impacting food production or increasing energy inputs, and without putting new land into production.
  • Local paper manufacturing: Paper made from wood fiber requires larger manufacturing facilities than paper made from agricultural waste. Consequently, increasing reliance on agricultural inputs allows for greater decentralization in the paper manufacturing industry, which allows in turn for reductions in transportation costs and energy consumption. Local economic independence is also improved with greater local control over manufacturing processes that impact local economies.

About wheat straw: World Centric®’s plant-fiber food service products are currently made from wheat straw. In the past, we relied more heavily on bagasse (sugar cane fiber that remains after juice is extracted), and we may shift to other plant inputs in the future, as the market for agricultural waste grows and changes. The wheat straw that we use comes from the stalks of wheat plants. The stalks of wheat plants do not store protein, gluten, or allergens. Those are stored in the grains, and our products do not contain gluten or allergens. Our products meet FDA standards for food contact, and they meet FDA standards for gluten-free, non-allergenic products.

Bleach-free wheat straw products: We offer unbleached plant fiber products in a light brown color. Bleaching is unnecessary for food service products, but most disposable food service products on the market today are bleached. Some of these products are bleached with elemental chlorine, which releases toxins into the environment – most notably dioxins – where they do not break down easily and accumulate in the food chain.

Working Conditions: Most of our plant-fiber food service products are manufactured in China. We commission third-party audits of the working conditions in these factories, and are assured that they pay fair living wages in accordance with living standards in China, they do not employ children, and they provides housing, regular meals, and normal work hours for the workers. A summary of these audits can be downloaded here.

Case Study:

  1. Red Worms: A fast and efficient system to compost World Centric® brand compostable plates ; Cicada Hoyt; Ms. Buffy Sexton 7th grade science fair; Science Fair Research Paper; Provided January, 29 2013.

Page Notes:

  1. Composting times based on ASTD standards and in-house testing.
  2. Nonwoody Plant Fiber Pulps; Dr. Manfred Judt; Inpaper International; http://www.inpaper.com/magzines/inpaper/oct-dec-y1... ; Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  3. Wood-Free Paper; The Rainforest Information Centre Good Wood Guide; http://www.rainforestinfo.org.au/good_wood/wfr_pap... ; Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  4. Paper from Wheat, not Wood; World Changing Team; August 28, 2008; http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/008430.html
  5. Wheat Sheet: A New Era of Papermaking in Canada; Eco Initiatives, Markets Initiative; www.albertatechfutures.ca/Portals/0/documents/news... ; Retrieved 9/1/12.

Sources:

 

Written by

World Centric

 

Read time

7 minutes

 

Published on

Jul 5, 2018

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