You may have noticed wheat straw becoming a more popular material, but what exactly is it and where has it come from?
Wheat straw plastic is a new type of material made from the leftover scraps after wheat harvesting.
These materials were historically used as animal feed and have now been found to have great uses in the manufacturing industry. The production process of wheat straw plastic breaks down the plant’s cellulose walls to make different kinds of polymers and bio-plastics.
The rest of this article will go over everything you need to know about wheat straw. By the end you’ll understand its various properties, how it is made and what makes it different from traditional plastic.
What is wheat straw plastic?
Wheat straw plastic is a type of bioplastic made from the waste products of wheat harvesting.
This material has a few useful properties that you should be familiar with. These include being durable and microwavable for short periods.
Here’s a closer look at each of these properties.
Durable and strong
Wheat straw has a lot of lignin. Together with cellulose, lignin helps give plants their structure and keeps their stems standing tall. Both are strong polymers.
The biggest, tallest trees in the world all use lignin for thickness and strength – this is how strong this polymer can be.
Lignin is the primary component of many bioplastics, which is why this material is also durable and strong. You can take a look at some of the main uses for bioplastics here, plus have a read of the different types of bioplastics and their advantages and disadvantages for the environment.
Microwavable (for short periods)
If you have plates and cutlery made from wheat straw plastic, it should be possible to microwave these for up to 2 and half minutes. Any longer and the cutlery might get damaged.
However, this will completely depend on how they’ve been manufactured so please make sure you look at the label for more information.
What makes wheat straw plastic different from typical plastic?
Traditional plastics are made from petroleum, whilst wheat straw plastic is plant-based.
This crucial difference between these two types of bioplastic has several differences between the products and on the environmental impact of each.
Here are some of the most important differences between plastic and wheat straw plastic you should know about:
- Plastic is made from artificial polymers, whereas wheat straw plastic is derived from plants
- Wheat straw plastic is biodegradable unlike traditional plastic
- Wheat straw plastic production uses much less energy than traditional plastic
All kinds of plastics are made from polymers. The difference between them all is usually where that polymer comes from.
The polymer used is responsible for the strength and durability of a plastic.
Some common synthetic polymers used in the production of traditional plastic include:
None of these are naturally occuring. They are produced in industries. The process creates a lot of pollution and has a huge carbon footprint. Some of these plastics can be recycled, but you have to look for the different types of resin identification codes.
Bioplastics are made from naturally occuring polymers. With wheat straw plastic, the polymer is created from lignin found in wheat grain plants. Compostable carrier bags and dog poo bags for example are made from corn or potato starch.
What makes wheat straw plastic biodegradable?
Wheat straw is made from plants which means it’s biodegradable.
The biggest issue with traditional plastic and the reason why environmentalists call for plastic bans or plastic taxes is that this material isn’t biodegradable at all. So even after 100 years, it is likely that a plastic product will still exist. And even if it does breakdown, you then have the problem of microplastics in the environment.
Since wheat straw products don’t have this issue, they are considered to be better for the environment.
So, how long does it take for wheat straw plastic to decompose?
Wheat straw plastic in the form of plates, cups and lunch boxes will decompose from 6 months to 2 years depending on the conditions.
Why does wheat straw plastic production uses less energy?
Wheat straw plastic production doesn’t use the same amount of energy because the process uses natural plants.
It doesn’t require the same amount of energy to harvest wheat and collect the straw as it does to drill down miles into the Earth to collect oil.
It also doesn’t require a lot of energy to create the wheat straw pulp when compared to processing oil. This is a hugely energy intensive process that takes places in refineries with a lot of additional materials and chemicals.
The carbon emission output to produce bioplastic is much smaller than traditional plastic.
Common wheat straw products
Wheat straw has become a common bioplastic.
As such you can find a lot of products made from it. This includes:
- Lunch boxes
- Plates and cutlery
- Wheat straw phone cases – check out these biodegradable phone cases
Taking care of wheat straw products
There are a couple of important things to remember when using wheat straw products.
Remember these tips and you’ll be good:
- Keep wheat straw products away from direct sunlight
- Do not expose wheat straw plastic products to fire
- Do not put the lid on coffee cups or other containers when in the microwave
- Products are dishwasher safe but hand washing with some eco washing up liquid and a sustainable sponge is recommended
The production of wheat straw plastic uses waste products historically used as animal feed to make items like plates and phone cases in an eco friendly manner. This material makes for an excellent green alternative to traditional plastic since it has a smaller carbon footprint.
It’s possible to convert other agricultural waste products from corn and potatoes into bioplastics too. All natural plastics come with a bunch of benefits for us and the environment and are a more sustainable option.
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Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.
Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.