Avoiding waste - palm leaves instead of plastic

Daniel Auinger's straws are really straws, just like they used to be. They are also organic. Nine years ago, the 44-year-old farmer from the Hausruckviertel started driving out to the stubble field and harvesting straws from old rye varieties with a special device. The stalks are sorted, cut and cleaned in a process based on water and steam. The biodegradable drinking straws are ready.

Auinger, whose main occupation is an organic farmer and lives off the direct marketing of eggs, pasta, bread and bacon, sold five million of these to restaurants and end consumers in 2019. In 2020 business went to zero, now it's starting up again, he tells the “Wiener Zeitung”.

The Upper Austrian has not yet made any money with his straws. That could change soon, because the European Union is looking for a way out of its plastic misery and with the "Single Use Plastics Directive" has been banning the sale of certain single-use plastic products since July 3rd, including classic disposable items such as cotton swabs, single-use cutlery and plates Drinking straws. Other lightweights such as balloon holding sticks and plastic stirrers for drinks are also covered by the ban.

Daniel Auinger with his organic straws in their original state. They are sorted and cut by hand and then cleaned with steam. - © Bio Strohhalme Austria GmbH

Daniel Auinger with his organic straws in their original state. They are sorted and cut by hand and then cleaned with steam.

- © Bio Strohhalme Austria GmbH

Austria has missed the deadline for implementing the relevant directive, but is on the way there. The single-use plastic directive is regulated by the amendment to the Waste Management Act and the Packaging Ordinance, which are currently being assessed and "will come into force as soon as possible," according to the Ministry of the Environment. Austria has already informed the EU Commission about this.

Reusable plastic plates also help to avoid waste, emphasizes Elmar Schwarzlmüller from the environmental consultancy of the City of Vienna. - © Monika Kupka THE ENVIRONMENTAL ADVICE

Reusable plastic plates also help to avoid waste, emphasizes Elmar Schwarzlmüller from the environmental consultancy of the City of Vienna.

- © Monika Kupka THE ENVIRONMENTAL ADVICE

A disposable product remains a disposable product

Environmentally conscious consumers have not bought plastic grill plates for years, but have turned to alternatives. The market offers a wide range of products made of paper, wood, bamboo, wheat bran or corn starch that are touted as sustainable. "Drinking straws made of paper, which then end up in the trash, are not necessarily better than those made of plastic," says Lisa Panhuber, consumption expert at Greenpeace. "It would be better to use products several times."

"Paper drinking straws that end up in the trash are not necessarily better than plastic ones," says Lisa Panhuber, consumer expert at Greenpeace. - © Mitja Kobal

"Drinking straws made of paper, which then end up in the trash, are not necessarily better than those made of plastic," says Lisa Panhuber, consumption expert at Greenpeace.

- © Mitja Kobal

A best practice example: In event catering, stable plastic cups have been used for some time, which have remained in the cycle for years. “They can be reused up to 100 times,” says Panhuber.

The fact that certain single-use plastic products are now banned in the EU is certainly an important contribution to environmental protection, but it is not a big hit, according to the expert. Most of the garbage would not be discarded drinking straws or plastic plates, but packaging. "The pollution of the world's oceans with plastic is mainly due to discarded plastic sheeting and plastic bottles," emphasizes Panhuber.

Reusing products several times protects the environment and helps avoid waste, says Elmar Schwarzlmüller from the environmental consultancy of the City of Vienna. There is also little objection to reusable plastic plates. If you prefer to use disposable plates made of palm leaves, sugar cane, wood or bamboo for the barbecue party or picnic for convenience, you should pay attention to the origin of the raw materials, the coating and the rapid degradability.

"A general ecological assessment is difficult," admits Schwarzmüller. Incidentally, not everything that is labeled as “biodegradable” is good for the environment. Even if cigarette filters are made of ecological material: The stubs still contain toxic substances. They belong in the residual waste and not in the meadow, where they can be found in abundance after major festivals, for example. Even disposable plates and cutlery often do not end up in the rubbish bin. At least they are now sustainable.

The wholesale company Metro offers in its extensive non-food range "as an ecological solution" disposable plates, soup bowls and cups made of pressed palm leaf, sugar cane fibers and corn starch, with which organizers can underline their commitment to the environment, it is said.

"Wherever we can, we get the sustainable disposable alternatives from Austria, such as the paper drinking straws from Black System," says the Wiener Zeitung when asked. Many of the other ecologically sustainable products are strictly tested by importers. There is currently more demand for sugar cane products in particular. One-way plastic forks that are currently still available from Metro are remnants that will be sold off.