Three young entrepreneurs in Bengaluru are trying to reduce the city’s dependence on plastic by promoting drinking straws made out of biodegradable plant stems.
Shiva Manjesh, a civil-engineer-turned-politico co-founded ‘Eco-Friendly Straws’ with his friends Jagadish Raj and Naveen Kumar, as one of the many green initiatives to reduce plastic disposable usage.
“We have to consider a low-cost alternative for plastic straws before blaming users, as it would not be feasible for vendors selling tender coconut or juice at ₹20 to invest ₹3 on a disposable bamboo straw or ₹2 on a wheat straw. Plastic straws that pollute the environment are unabatedly being used but they are affordable,” says Shiva, 27 who was the youngest independent Bengaluru North candidate in the last elections. “The more plastic straws I saw, the more I was pushed into thinking about my childhood when I grew up amidst farming lands in Tumkuru ,” adds Shiva.
The group is promoting the hollow stems of castor bean plants as drinking straws and has been distributing over 1,000 free samples in the vicinity of the Dasarahalli Metro Station in the past few weeks.
“Nearly 50 of us running juice centres and selling tender coconut received the castor bean stem straws for trial purposes. It seems good with a natural smell of a tree product, and we have been offering them to customers for the last three days,” says Gowda, a tender coconut vendor.
In spite of the BBMP and the Pollution Control Board’s ban of plastic covers and straws, vendors are seen using plastic straws generously. “I had to do something,” says Shiva, his ‘Eco-friendly Straws’ being the first step.
Shiva, a resident of Dasarahalli, used to visit his family’s farmlands when his grandfather often plucked the stems of castor plant from the farm to be used as straws to sip coconut water easily. “My parents often told me that since castor plant stems are naturally cylindrical they were used as straws in the olden days as they were at once usable and completely biodegradable,” says Shiva.
Shiva, Jagadish and Naveen of the firm who are passionate about working towards a cause were all trained at B-PAC for social and civic work after their education. “Our main aim is to make people follow a sustainable life and be aware of the dangers of an inorganic chain,” feels Jagadish.
The group has distributed straws around Sankey Tank, Devanahalli and Tumkuru. “We have sourced the castor stems from Tumkuru from many farmlands there,” says Shiva explaining that other than castor seeds that are used for oil, the stems are generally considered a waste. “This product would have a two-pronged strategy for us for going green,” says Shiva adding that while making people eco-sensitive, farmers can be approached to grow more castor as both seeds and stems will get used.”
The hollow castor stem, around 1 to 6 millimetres in diameter depending on the stem, can be washed for dust particles and immediately used. “We cut stems and dry them in natural sunshine for a week before they are ready to be used,” says Jagadish.
CFTRI report expected soon
The entrepreneurs took the castor stems to GKVK in Bengaluru and the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research (IIHR) in Hesaraghatta for preliminary trials and certification. “Scientists at both research centres told us the product was superb for disposable use as they were 100% biodegradable,” claims Shiva. “But both the institutions were not authorised to give certifications for other products. They advised us to approach CFTRI in Mysuru for study and formal permit.”
Castor straws would be comparatively cheaper compared to bamboo or wheat straws, as the unused part of the plant will be sourced. They would be more durable than paper straws, and could be used a number of times. “We want to share 50% of the profit with farmers,” says Shiva.