Your obsession with a cocktail or a shake on a summer afternoon is understandable, but the idea of sipping that delicious drink with a long colourful plastic straw is debatable. Well the question in front of all of us is do we have an alternative?
It took us some time to understand the immediate impact of using a plastic straw. Remember the horrific eight-minute video of the 10-centimetre long straw that was removed from the nostril of a sea turtle? Eventually, the turtle went on to become the poster child for the "Anti Plastic Straw" campaign.
An article on plastic (www.pollutioncoalition.org) dated November 11th, 2015, by Heidi Siegmund and Elizabeth Glazner "the plastic was lodged in the turtle's nasal cavity, reaching down to his throat, inhibiting his breathing and sense of smell" which is also a turtle's most important method of finding food.
Similarly, in another article (www.strawfree.org) it was written that the United States alone uses more than 50 crore straws on an average every day which is enough to fill 127 buses. The article mentions that straws are one of the top 10 pieces of garbage polluting the ocean. According to the article by 2050, there will be more plastic than fishes in the sea.
To understand the context and the complications, Democracy News Live's correspondent Subhajit Paul had a chat with Professor Saji Varghese. The professor has been working on an alternative method to develop environment-friendly straws that can eradicate plastic straws from the market. He developed a straw from the leaves of a coconut tree.
How did the idea first strike you?
I was looking for biodegradable alternatives knowing the fact that plastic straws are a big scourge on the environment. One day while taking a stroll in the campus I observed a dry coconut leave fallen down and one of the leaflets almost curled up like a straw, and that was the significant moment. I took that leaf home and tested every possibility for it to develop into a straw.
Take us through the process that is involved in developing one of these environment-friendly straws?
The Doodly straws are very effective in a way that it has all the properties that you see in a plastic straw. In a sense that, these straws are made out of coconut leaflets. It also has its own natural wax which is the carnauba wax, it is very safe for human contact and once you steam pressure it the wax comes on the surface of the leaf and then we have the hydrophobic straws ready.
How large is the use of plastic straws that made you work towards this alternate?
In the month of August, there was an article in one of the popular newspaper that reported Kerala uses 30 lakh straws every single day, and that is just one single state. Now you can imagine the situation if we have to consider the entire country. Today I am working towards replacing 30 lakh plastic straws with these environment-friendly straws. Now imagine the kind of impact that we can make is humongous and I am confident that it will be one of the major contributions towards Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.
This straw is reusable. How long does it last for?
Doodly straws can stay for more than twelve hours in the liquid, the straws can be used multiple times, you can wash and preserve them. The best part about these straws is there is an unlikely chance for any fungus attack once the wax is on its surface.
Have you and your team tested the prototype? What is the kind of response you have received?
As of now we are hand rolling few straws every week and we are testing the prototype at several juice joints, however I am extremely pleased with the overwhelming response, and there hasn't been a single negative remark till today and it is a pleasure to know that the customers at the juice joints are asking them to discard plastic straws.
Have you approached any Government bodies and have they reached out with any funding or opened a platform for discussion?
The government has recognised the Doodly straws, Unnat Bharat Abhiyan under the Ministry of Human Resource
Development organised the i2s Swadeshi startup at the IIT- Delhi, and I won the National Award for this innovation.
Apart from this the Kudumbashree the largest Self-help group run by the Government of Kerala and also funded by the Centre after having a meeting with them, and they are eager to adopt the Doodly straws manufacturing as one of their projects for their Self-help groups.
The biggest surprise that came last month after the Ministry of Denmark, approved the straw and invited us to the Start-Up Denmark programme.
Are you also looking for potential Investors into your start-up?
Definitely yes, we need the kind of major financial support. If we can get some capital flowing the work can be doubled. There are few potential investors from the US and Bengaluru. I have already applied in Tata Social Enterprise, and we are also in touch with Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus who funds social business models. Hopefully, someone will turn up and we can continue doing the good work.