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Living With Climate Change: Yankee Stadium will use biodegradable straws made from canola oil that disappear within months

Even Earth-loving beverage sippers weren’t thrilled with the soggy paper straw solution to plastic.

Now, a company that’s helping major sports venues think greener with their concessions will bring a biodegradable straw that it argues is just as sturdy as plastic to the food counters and vendors for the New York Yankees’ home opener this week against the Boston Red Sox.

The WinCup Phade straw — which comes in three sizes, including one large enough for milkshakes — and cocktail stirrers are a non-petroleum, non-forest-based “bio-plastic” product. Petroleum
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sources and away from oil and gas.

The Phade straws maintain the convenience of petroleum-based plastic straws, their manufacturers say, but with lower greenhouse gas production impacts and less risk to marine life and ecosystems. According to the National Park Service, Americans use approximately 500 million plastic drinking straws every day. And National Geographic explored how plastic straws came to define much of our drinking culture (it all started with a mint julep.).

Plant-based ‘oil’

These new straws and stirrers are made with PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate), a biodegradable biopolymer derived from the fermentation of virgin canola oil. PHA, which acts as a food source for bacteria, allows for faster decomposition in bacteria-rich environments in a matter of months.

Officials at WinCup said the next step in production will be to look for ways to use canola oil waste instead of first-run oil. And WinCup concedes there is some water use and soil quality considerations to the overall “greenness” of these straws, considering their farming origins.

“But do consider that when that straw is used by a consumer and ends up back in a bacteria-rich environment, the bacteria eat it again. So the bacteria creates it, and then the bacteria destroys it. So it’s kind of a closed loop on sustainability,” Michael Winters, WinCup president and chief revenue officer, told MarketWatch.

“And there’s two canola crops per year. So farmers actually get the benefit of being able to grow two crops per year. So it’s good for the farmers, right?” he added.

Plastic straws can penetrate the eyes of marine life, or choke it, but these new straws are built to breakdown in months, not the decades typical with traditional plastic straws. The products’ Caribbean blue color is very intentional as part of its overall messaging.

Watch this time-lapse video that shows how these straws biodegrade.

The straws can be sold in quantities for home and business use, too. In addition to breaking down in water, they’ll turn into compost in typical household and commercial compost bins. Individuals can purchase these biodegradable straws and stirrers through Amazon.com, running roughly $19.99 for a 250-count, depending on size.

Of course, stadiums and other users of these straws should combine biodegradable efforts with programs to keep straws and other concession and game-day waste out of waterways and landfills, period. And some are.

America’s pastimes

Yankee Stadium, which holds over 54,000 people, had already committed to achieving zero waste and promoting a circular economy based on composting and recycling. Approximately 85% of the stadium’s total waste is diverted from landfills and incinerators.

Read: Coors will can its plastic six-pack rings for good

“The global plastics pollution crisis has been building for decades as plastic debris has been identified everywhere from Arctic snow to the deepest points in the ocean,” said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, environmental science adviser for the Yankees. His position with the team is emblematic of a push among professional sports via the Green Sports Alliance to include sustainability experts in planning.

“Most significantly, the greenhouse gas emissions from the production of petro-plastics raises global temperatures, which has profound deleterious effects on the health and well-being of people around the world,” he said.

Phade, a play on PHA and fade, has been used in SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, host of this year’s Super Bowl, and also at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where the NFL’s Falcons play, and Gillette Stadium in New England, home of the Patriots. The straws and stirrers could also be found at the 2021 PGA Championship in Kiawah Island, S.C.

Read: Recycling is confusing — how to be smarter about all that takeout plastic

These high-profile sports alliances are beneficial to pushing the straws into restaurant and home use, its creators believe.

“The New York Yankees is one of the most well-known sports brands globally and the franchise is to be commended for using that influence to positively impact the environment,” said WinCup’s Winters.

And next?

WinCup has long made other sustainable food containers, including a version of a foam cup that breaks down in a shortened four years compared to traditional Styrofoam and some paper.

Asked if there’s scope for use of biodegradable PHA-made “plastic” in uses such as healthcare settings, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic drew attention to vast amounts of medical waste, Winters agreed.

“We are working on a lot of different Phade products for the future… due to the market acceptance of PHA in general,” he said. “I do believe the medical industry is ripe for this substrate because of how it forms: you can run it through multiple types of manufacturing equipment for it to hold the appropriate shape for whatever that end-user product is.”

“It’s a little tricky, right? It’s not so easy to run,” he added. “But it has so many benefits downstream if you can figure it out.”

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