Using and throwing that plastic straw is such a trivial thing, no? How much time does it take anyway? A few seconds? Chucking that thin bit of nothing in the can and forgetting all about it. But the irony is that, THAT trivial thing will outlive you, me and many generations to come. And this is something to think about.
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are not the buzz words anymore that we used to use in our school speeches. They are a cure to the ecological disaster we all are sitting on right now. And even the smallest of eco-friendly alternatives to plastic have taken on a crucial role in our fight to protect ourselves.
With this exact thought process, two techies from Thiruvananthapuram, Fariq Noushad and Previn Jacob Varghese have introduced a sustainable alternative to plastic straws – papaya leaf stem!
The duo has introduced an indigenous way to reuse papaya stem waste and make straws that have a shelf life of up to six months.
“The stem of the papaya leaf, which usually goes to waste, makes for a beautiful natural straw. So, we have tied up with 40 farmers from Thiruvananthapuram who grow papayas on a total area of 30 acres to procure the stems,” Fariq tells The Better India (TBI).
The idea of using papaya stems mushroomed when the two childhood friends were brainstorming to enter the sustainable industry after working for around two and a half years in a software company in South Africa.
“After doing our B.tech from Kerala University and working in the software industry, we studied the markets and realised that nature is a potential field to tap. During our research, we found a vendor cutting the stem and putting it in coconuts. We thought that though papaya is widely grown across India, the stems have no value. Thus, the raw material is easily accessible and affordable,” says Fariq.
The research led to the duo founding their organisation ‘Greenikk Sustainable Ventures Pvt Ltd’ in Thiruvananthapuram’s Kochuveli industrial area to process the straws. At present their firm supplies 2,500 sustainable straws every month to a juice outlet in the city at Rs 3 per straw.
Testing, Failures & More
The techies embarked on their journey a year ago with no prior experience in making straws and very little knowledge about how the Indian markets function. From finding mentors who would guide them in making the straw durable to conducting numerous experiments, Fariq and Previn gave their heart, soul and savings to this project. The testing process was done at a farm in Neyyantinkara.
Giving an insight, he says, “We washed the stem in hot water to remove all the dust and kept it for drying in sunlight. However, we realised the straws were shrinking and they tasted bitter. So we added salt and turmeric in boiled water to get rid of the taste. Regarding the shrinking problem, we realised they needed limited sun exposure.”
The controlled drying led them to develop a 3-step process. For the same, they purchased two machines, a water bath and oven from their savings and designed a control drying machine on their own.
Things progressed as soon as the machines came in. To test if their product was worth selling, they even participated at the TATA Social Enterprise Challenge at IIM Kolkata. Among entries from 500 innovators, their product was the second runner up.
Fariq and Previn have hired a team of around ten people to run the machines and carry out the manufacturing process.
After the straws are purchased from the farmers, they are brought to the warehouse where each stem is cut into two halves and washed in clean water. They are dried and then soaked in a solution that removes proteins. The last step is packaging. The machines can make 4,000 durable straws in a day which amounts to almost a lakh per month. The profits are divided equally between the duo and farmers, thus providing farmers with an extra source of income.
One-time use plastic items like straws are extremely harmful to the environment and they take hundreds of years to decompose. Previn and Fariq’s sustainable solution could help in eliminating the need for plastic straws to a large extent.
Get in touch with Greenikk Sustainable Ventures Pvt Ltd here.
Image Credits: LOFE works/YouTube
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)