Dr. Denise Stilling is turning ag waste into sustainable products.

According to the Government of Canada, close to 57 million straws are used every day in this country. These straws, mostly made of plastic, can take up to 200 years to break down. And that's on land. A lot of straws also end up in our oceans and waterways.

Dr. Denise Stilling, associate professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, received funding from the Government of Saskatchewan's Agricultural Development Fund to help find a solution to this environmental problem. In order to do it, she's also helping to solve another issue - agricultural waste.

Stilling is taking byproducts from farmer's flax and cereal crops, and working to turn them into useful and biodegradable consumer products.





One of the products that Stilling is testing and developing is a compostable drinking straw as an alternative to current biodegradable drinking straws, which tend to become mushy when they get wet, which definitely...sucks!

She's come up with several very promising prototypes.



Her research team of graduate students have taken chopped up flax straw, combined with various starches, such as corn and/or pea starch, along with other additives, such as beeswax, which they form using thermal extrusion.

Stilling has tried many different combinations of these ingredients to see which ones make the best straws.



She colours her prototypes so she can easily identify which straws contain which materials and in what amounts.

The colouring may provide future marketing appeal.

Together with her students, Stilling is testing different compositions within the straws to see how they hold up to moisture, so her product doesn't go mushy when being used.

Preliminary work shows her straws maintain their properties for over six hours of being soaked.  That's right - her straws won't disintegrate before you're finished your drink!

These Stilling straws also biodegrade after only about a week.




Stilling hopes that her design using Saskatchewan agricultural waste, may just be the last straw we need.

About the author

Krista Baliko is the University of Regina’s research communications strategist and the editor of Discourse Research Magazine.