A Bengaluru professor has developed a straw out of coconut leaves. Prof Saji Varghese who teaches English at the Christ University took the coconut leaves to a lab and steamed it under high pressure to discover it developed a natural shiny layer under heat. He decided to replace the common plastic straw with an organic alternative.
The invention has offered a new lease of life to rural women in coastal regions. Varghese's innovation could be a game-changer, especially at a time when plastic menace has acquired pandemic proportions.
The idea first came to him when he was walking back home from college and spotted a dry leaf. "I picked it up and noticed that the dry leaf had folded, giving it the shape of a straw," said the professor.
"I experimented with it for a few months and created a single-layered straw by binding it with food-grade glue. But it wasn't very sturdy." reported The Times Of India
When he found out that the straws were not strong enough, he started experimenting on how to improve the model. Finally, in 2018, Varghese successfully developed a multi-layered straw out of coconut leaf. His organic creation was not only anti-fungal but also was water-resistant for more than six hours, with a shelf life of over 12 months.
In the beginning, the straws were produced by using basic machinery. Three units in villages in Madurai, Tuticorin and Kasargod districts were set up for the production process to begin. Apart from being sustainable for the environment, it also provided employment to rural women.
The professor's biodegradable alternative paid off instantly as food businesses ordered for the straws he marketed under the brand name, SunBird. Within a year, he was flooded with orders from overseas as well. The straws are now being exported to 25 countries, including the US, Australia and EU nations.
"I received a patent for the product in May and have now started producing it on a large scale. The idea is to provide a livelihood to the urban poor and rural women, mainly in coastal regions of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Work is underway to set up 20 more units," he said.
The innovation has won him Swadeshi Startup award 2018 from IIT Delhi, Swiss Re Shine Entrepreneur award and Climate Launchpad Award 2018 for social impact from Scotland. The straws are priced at ₹5 per piece. Such innovations are not only sustainable for our environment but also push employment avenues in rural areas.
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