This won’t surprise anyone: plastic straws are one of the top 10 most commonly found items in coastal clean-ups the world over. But it is also the easiest pro-environment switch you can make in your personal life — either go without them or choose from the variety of eco-friendly, sustainable options out there.
There’s bamboo, steel, paper, and even edible variants. While each has its own advantages, none has garnered wide-scale appeal yet. Perhaps because some can’t hold warm liquids, while others require frequent cleaning.
Now with 170 nations, including India, pledging to significantly reduce using plastics by 2030, we are seeing a surge in eco straw alternatives. And homegrown brands aren’t far behind.
Coconut Palm Leaf straws at Evlogia Eco Care, Bengaluru
Coconut palm leaves turn into straws at this Bengaluru-based start-up founded by Manigandan Kumarappan in 2019. Employing women self-help groups and farmers, the company makes close to 10,000 straws a day with raw materials coming in from their collection centres in Madurai, Palani and Nagercoil. The patented straws are made only from fallen leaves and come in different varieties for thick shakes, cocktails and tetrapaks, too.
Mastering the process wasn’t easy, admits Kumarappan. “As the raw material doesn’t go through any chemical treatment, it is susceptible to fungus and mould growth. We tackled this by introducing a multi-step cleaning, drying and packaging process,” he says. They currently supply to restaurants and cafés in Bengaluru, such as Bohemians and Chai Days. Kumarappan adds that the non-uniformity of the leaves was another hurdle that they worked on for over a year. “We altered our machines to accommodate these variations and produce uniform straws.”
Coming up : wild grass straws, coffee cup lids, and takeaway containers made from fallen areca sheaths.
Pros : Sturdy, and can be used for more than two hours in both hot and cold liquids
Cons : A whiff of coconut remains on the straws, which are costlier than its plastic and paper counterparts
Castor straws at Eco-Friendly Straws, Bengaluru
To give people a low-cost alternative to plastic straws, civil-engineer-turned-politico Shiva Manjesh and his two friends started an initiative to create straws from the castor plant. The first-of-its-kind creation was initially met with confused looks, as “no one understood our idea”, says Manjesh, who conferred with scientists, agricultural universities, and farmers to finalise the process. After several trials, the CFTRI-certified straws (available as fresh and dried) were launched in 2018 and have been distributed to several tender coconut vendors and juice shops in and around Bengaluru.
Taking me through the process, he explains that after they collect the stems of the castor plant, these are washed with hot water, disinfected with salt water (to get rid of insects), and then cut into various sizes and packed. “We have currently sent samples to the Northeast and countries like the UK and Australia, as I am looking at setting up franchises,” he adds.
₹ 1 each. Details: facebook.com/ecofriendlystraws
Pros : Reusable, sturdy, cost-effective
Cons : A faint aroma of castor
Edible wheat/rice straws at Nom, Maharashtra
The plastic crisis, and the rise in the use of disposable cutlery, is what prompted Simran Rajput and Shashank Gupta to create edible straws. “Nom straws are to drinks what waffle cones are to the ice creams,” says Gupta, who launched the brand in November 2019, adding that they started off with experiments with a jelly-like substance derived from seaweed. But there were “issues with room temperature storage and its structural integrity, so we switched to ingredients such as wheat and rice flour, natural stevia, sugar, vegetable oil and cocoa powder, among others. The lack of funds and R&D facilities were the biggest challenges”, he says.
The plant-based straws — that remain crunchy for up to 20 minutes in your lukewarm beverage — come in six flavours: Strawberry Rose, Coffee Java, Crunchy Vanilla, Mint Blast, Lime Pinch and their latest launch, Choco Lust. “Flavours aside, the straws are also customisable in terms of size — for milkshakes, bubble tea, etc. We are also working on gluten-free versions.”
What sets Nom apart from other sustainable options in the market is that they add value to the consumer. “The straw becomes an add-on to the beverage, as a snack,” he says. Now in the final stages of a pilot with Marriott Hotels, Radisson and other hospitality brands, their upcoming launches include new flavours for children and ice cream spoons.
₹ 200 onwards, on thenom.in
Pros : No wastage, interesting flavours
Cons : Expensive, not gluten-free
Rice straws at Smaart Eats, Mumbai
The latest entrant in the edible cutlery market is Vishal Ladha, who launched Smaart Eats last September with rice straws. “We wanted to start our production in March, but the pandemic hit. So we used the lockdown period to work on our ingredients and tried several combinations with wheat flour, corn flour and a 100% rice base. The best combination was rice with tapioca as the starch is a great binding agent,” he says. Edible and durable — they last for up to an hour in any drink (cold or at room temperature) — Ladha assures that they won’t change the flavour of any beverage. The straws are coloured with a range of plant-based extracts such as beetroot, carrot, and pumpkin. “Initially, we only made white straws, but after brands approached us to customise them, we launched the coloured variants,” says Ladha, who is supplying to restaurants across the country, including The Bar Stock Exchange and franchises of Mainland China in Mumbai. This month, he will launch a new range of products: honey, organic spices, Fine Bone China tea sets, etc., and looks forward to taking his straws to more restaurants.
₹ 2 onwards on smaarteats.com
Pros : Sturdy
Cons : Not suitable for hot beverages