Bangalore Professor Makes Eco-Friendly Straws Out of Coconut Leaves
Plastic waste has become a huge environmental issue in contemporary times. Determined to tackle this problem, Dr. Saji Varghese, a professor at Christ University, Bangalore, has found an innovative way to reduce plastic waste by making straws and bags from fallen coconut leaves.
Launched by this English professor, the brand is called Sunbird Straws, which produces these nature-friendly straws from coconut leaves. These straws are made by women from communities of rural areas in South India, with a shelf life of nine months and can hold themselves in drinks for up to six hours.
The entire process is eco-friendly and chemical-free. Dr. Varghese takes advantage of the natural wax of the coconut leaves coming to its surface after it has been pressurised with steam. As the straws made out of these leaves, they are hydrophobic and hence safe for humans to use. According to Dr. Varghese, a singular coconut leave can produce 600 straws of a diameter of 3mm to 13 mm.
He also sent a few samples of these environmentally-friendly straws to ten countries including the USA, the UK, Malaysia, Spain, the Philippines and more. The green alternative to the plastic straws has earned him an order of 10 million straws that were sent by end of January, earlier this year.
The straws are made from zero-cost raw materials and can be produced on a high scale. They are available in tow forms -one is the regular-use straw and the other, the smaller one, includes the midrib of the leaf, which permits easy penetration of tetra packs.
Thatched roofs, woven bags, brooms and even toothpicks – there are plenty of uses for coconut leaves as a natural alternative to other products. And the innovation of this Bangalore-based professor of making straws from coconut leaves can potentially eliminate one of the biggest environmental hazards that are the plastic straws.
As per a 2018 report, India creates 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste every year, out of which only 9 percent gets recycled.
Story of Sunbird Straws
51-year-old Varghese first came across the idea of making straws out of coconut leaves when he noticed dry leaves lying on the ground.
Each year a coconut tree naturally loses up to six of its leaves. From the results of a study I carried on the same subject, I found out that in many rural areas in our country, these leaves are simply burnt due to the difficulty in its disposal. That’s when I decided to create an eco-friendly product out of it in 2017.
Within two years, he developed unique coconut leaf straws, which are priced at Rs 3 to Rs 10 per straw. According to him, he has got orders for over 20 million straws from various other countries. In 2018, the straws received a patent and are now sold under the brand name ‘Sunbird Straws’.
To promote biodegradable and eco-friendly innovations, Varghese has launched a start-up called ‘Blessing Palms’. He has conducted various experiments and wide research on different biodegradable materials at the campus incubation center at the university.
When I first wanted to make the straw, I started out by steaming the leaves to clean them and that’s when I noticed the natural wax from these leaves was coming out on its own. We can use this natural wax to make the straws anti-fungal and hydrophobic (water repellent).
He further explains.
In October 2017, he revealed a single layer coconut leaf straw as the first sample. A year later, with the help of a team of the students from Christ University and design engineers who helped developed in-house equipment for large scale production, Varghese created coconut leaf straws that ranged from 3mm to 13mm in diameter. The coconut leaves undergo a three-step cleansing process, which is followed by scraping and rolling.
The straws were later tested with all kinds of beverages, including water, sodas, milkshakes and bubble tea. The straws are 4-8 inches in length and have a shelf life of six months making them perfect for restaurants and hotels.
Moreover, the project provides employment and financial stability for rural women. The brand is planning to start 20 more production units and employ 200 women across villages in India. This initiative has received a lot of appreciation and seems a great way to reduce plastic waste plaguing the world.
Via: The Better India