Taiwan not only invented bubble tea that has created a global phenomenon, one of the country’s vibrant startup firms has also come up with eco versions of straws that allow you sip through and enjoy chewy tapioca balls, or oversized ‘bubbles’, in beverages. Among many green solutions providers, Taiwan Plants Fiber Tech Alliance(PFTA) makes plastic-free, bio-degradable straws and cutlery out of sugarcanes and other agricultural waste. It now aims to expand the green product to the US.
According to the World Bank, the world produced 242 million tons of plastic waste in 2016, 57 million tons originated from Asia Pacific, 45 million tons from Europe and Central Asia, and 35 million tons from North America, and that there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish in 2050 if no action is taken.
In addition, recycling systems around the world are breaking down due to Covid-19 budget strains. Recycling is not enough; a more creative solution is replacing plastic. As Taiwan’s bubble tea has taken the world by storm in recent years, its indispensable partner, the straw, is becoming eco-friendly and cool.
PFTA chose sugarcane and plant fibers as raw materials to make one-time or reusable cutlery. Its sugarcane straw is nicknamed ‘savior for bubble tea lovers’ since Taiwan, home of bubble tea, banned the use of plastic straws at the end of 2019. But long before that, PFTA’s sugarcane straw was already welcomed by the Canadian market.
” In 2016, I posted our sugarcane straw on social media to celebrate the success of its commercialization after years of R&D efforts. An interested party from Canada immediately contacted me. He ordered two containers right away,” said James Chen, founder and CEO of PFTA. Even if sugarcane straws are twice as expensive as plastic ones, orders from Canada continued to increase. Now this very first customer of PFTA has become its business partner in Canada and has established production lines in Edmonton.
“Sugarcane is grown in abundance in Taiwan. In the Japanese colonial age, sugarcane was a pillar of local economy. Until today, many elderly in Taiwan still share the childhood memories of chewing sugarcanes for fun. Therefore, we manufacture sugarcane straws when there are straws made from cornstarch, paper, bamboo or stainless steel.” Chen said.
He said that another reason he chose to use sugarcane is to help reduce agricultural waste. Taiwan is “the kingdom of fruits and vegetables”. Abundant agricultural produce means abundant waste. Peels of pineapples, bananas, papayas, or even coffee grounds can be a burden to the environment since they produce methane in the compost or landfills and increase CO2 emission when incinerated.
ASEAN governments also welcome sugarcane straws as bubble tea is getting more popular in their countries. Thailand is the first to adopt PFTA’s sugarcane straws. Malaysia banned the use of plastic straws in 2019, Bali and Jakarta of Indonesia banned them in 2020. Striving for a greener future and enforcing its marketing efforts, PFTA approached Green Trade Project Office (GTPO) under Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs for overseas promotional support.
Sugarcane straw is just one of PFTA’s many plastic-free products. The company core technology is in its green materials: PFP (Plant Fiber Polymer) No.1 for making reusable products such as plates, bowls, toys, and building materials; and PFP No.2 for single use straws, spoons, and forks.
Chen said that compared with many other countries, the US is a late-comer in adopting green, biodegradable sugarcane straws. This means great market potentials for PFTA. “we are dedicated to establishing a zero-plastic future and circular economy. It’s a long, hard journey but we have confidence because we’ve seen more and more people answering our call.”