As per a study published earlier this year, close to 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches. The IT city is not far behind in making its contribution where 20 per cent of solid waste generated is plastic as per a report in The Economic Times. The Karnataka State Plastic Association reports that plastic consumption in Bengaluru is around 16 kg per person every month.
In this grim scenario, a Bengalurean has come up with an alternative in the form of castor stem straws to do away with the menace of plastic straw.
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Castor straws are nothing but leftover stems of the castor plant also known as Ricinus which would otherwise go to waste once farmers remove the seeds.
Shiva Manjesh, a Civil Engineer, is the man behind introducing these biodegradable straws in the city. Shiva is a member of Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC), a non-partisan/political native’s and citizen’s gathering group that works to resolve civic issues.
The eureka moment that culminated into the invention of castor straws came up during a conversation at a family dinner.
Speaking to The Better India, the 28-year-old says:
During one of our dinner table conversations, the problem of plastic waste came in. My father was reminiscing about the days when the presence of plastic was nearly zero. He grew up in Tumkur district where we have our farm. As a kid, he used castor stems to drink coconut water. I thought why not revive this traditional method to solve our modern problems.
A few days later, Shiva headed to his native Tumkur to spend a couple of days experimenting with castor stems. He took close to 80 stems and soaked them in lukewarm water to remove the dirt. Next, he immersed them in hot water and added salt to it to clean it further.
He then divided the stems into two equal sets and kept the first set for sun drying. He distributed the other set among his neighbours who told him that one can store the fresh straws in the fridge, wash and reuse them for up to ten times. As for the sun-dried ones, one can use them for a period of six months.
Both types are biodegradable and can decompose within a day. The straws are durable unlike paper straws that tend to tear. These will only break if someone deliberately tries to do so, informs Shiva.
Shiva came back to the city bringing several such stems from his farm where the castor plant is grown organically.
On 29 August, he and other members of BPAC approached nearly 50 coconut vendors, juice centres, shops and restaurants near Bengaluru’s Dasarahalli Metro Station. They distributed a thousand castor straws for free in a bid to spread awareness against the use of plastic straws.
I chose not to sell the straws commercially and distributed them for free because my idea is to first generate awareness about castor straws and tell vendors that non-plastic straws are available. We received a positive response from people and we are planning to carry out a similar exercise again in the city soon, says Shiva.
One of the coconut vendors that they approached spoke about how he had switched back to plastic straws a few months after the plastic ban in Karnataka.
Bamboo and paper straws are very expensive for us small-time vendors. Customers ask for straws so not using them was not an option either. These castor straws are a good option if it will be available at low prices, says the vendor.
The good news is that the castor stem straws are cheaper than their counterparts in the market according to Shiva. Farmers too can benefit from the castor straws, “It is a win-win model for farmers, vendors and the environment. Usually, the farmer discards the stem as it carries no value. But if castor straws are introduced in the market, the vendors can start purchasing them from the farmers,” says Shiva.
Many countries including India are taking steps to ban one-time use plastic and efforts by citizens like Shiva can certainly boost the implementation process.
Image Credits: Shiva Manjesh
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)