OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It’s estimated that more than 500 million single-use plastic straws are used and thrown away every day just in the United States alone.
With businesses, cities, states, and even some countries banning traditional straws, the race is on to find an environmentally-friendly alternative.
An unlikely contender from right here in Oklahoma could be the answer to the world’s plastic straw problem.
“It is a plant-based alternative to traditional petroleum,” said Sharina Perry.
The CEO of Utopia Plastix is talking about a patented recipe for a biodegradable, re-usable, compostable, and 100% recyclable plastic substitute.
“We really wanted to be a solution,” said Perry.
Perry was a cable and internet executive when, in her free time, she was pursuing her hobby of plant-based medicines.
She was trying to come up with something to help her nephew with his Neurofibromatosis. That’s when she says she stumbled upon a resin but its use didn’t dawn on her until she was using a paper straw at Starbuck’s one day. She says it started to break down.
“I then start watching the particles floating in my drink. I was a little grossed out,” said Perry.
So she went home and made a straw out of her plant-based resin.
“It hardened in cold liquid and it didn’t break down. I knew I really had something,” said Perry.
That was the birth of Utopia Plastix. Perry uses a secret combination of plant fibers to make plastic straws, bags; it can basically be shaped into anything.
The plants used are cover crops that replenish nutrients in the soil and absorb carbon between traditional wheat and soy plantings.
The resin can take any coloring, just like regular plastics.
“We try to make sure that it mimics the material that you are used to as far as functionality in the manufacturing process,” said Perry.
Speaking of, what do the folks that actually produce the products think?
“We’ve put it into various thicknesses, blow up ratios and it’s performed very well,” said Kevin McGehee.
He makes plastic bags for things like bread, potatoes, and ice at the Polyfilms factory in east Oklahoma City.
McGehee knows his clients will pay more for the sustainability factor of Utopia Plastix but he says the similarities to regular plastic when putting into his machines is the biggest plus.
“Whenever you have a product that comes in and you can put it in your equipment and you are not having to adjust all the bells and nobs and levers and try to make it work. It just drops in and it works. It’s a game changer,” said McGehee.
Perry in the process of moving her production facilities to her offices in Oklahoma City then marketing her resin worldwide.
She knows she is a rarity being a minority female in a traditionally male-dominated field.
“I am the only African American female in this space of polymers in the world,” she said.
Sharina tells us she will be the subject of a feature on the CNBC show ”Advancements with Ted Danson” next month.