Any flax producer knows that the biggest challenge to growing the crop is the long, fibrous residue left behind.
The following seeding season, these long-stem fibres — also known as shive — get wrapped around discs, wheels, or seeder-shanks. It’s known as “the straw problem” according to the former Flax Council of Canada, and it can deter farmers from growing the crop. Still, for 2020, flax acres are predicated to top 900,000 acres.
Straw choppers on newer combines can chop and spread flax straw effectively, but otherwise, flax straw gets dropped into windrows for baling after combining, or sometimes raked into piles to be burned later on. However, there are alternative uses for flax straw — animal bedding, duck nesting sites, ground firming in feedlots or oilfield drilling sites, shelterbelt mulch, in bales for insulation or in bale burners, golf course green covers, and now, even, plastic composites for phone cases.
Yes, you read that last one right. Phone cases. A new formulation called Flaxstic, from the mind of Saskatchewan local Jeremy Lang, founder of Open Mind Developments. Pela Case uses flax shive, plant-based biopolymers, and recycled materials to make up about 35 per cent of the case, of that about 10 per cent is flax straw waste. The remaining 55 per cent of the material is from non-renewable resources.
The phone cases claim to be 100 per cent compostable, and, because of the flax content, have shock absorbent qualities. The company also produces earbud cases, watch bands, phone grips, and a card holder attachment.
While the use of flax in material production isn’t new — Schweitzer Mauduit Canada based out of Winkler, Man, uses flax for cigarette paper and in some plastic composite products — the base material for Flaxstic meets standards for industrial composting or can be left to degrade in a home composter.