A passion for environmental sustainability recently bagged a second-year Chemical Engineering student at Stellenbosch University (SU) a massive cash prize.
Moved by a Facebook post of a sea turtle with a plastic fork stuck in its nose, 19-year old Leila Siljeur felt she had to do something to help reduce plastic pollution. She decided to design her own brand of edible, environment-friendly straws and won R50 000 for her invention in a recent Allan Gray Orbis Foundation National Jamboree.
“Even though companies are producing biodegradable straws, some still end up in the ocean posing a threat to marine life,” explains the teenager.
Registered under the name Eat Me Straws, the straws are available in three ranges - regular, health and vegan. The vegan mixed berry-flavoured straws have proved popular, with additional flavours such as raspberry and chocolate also available.
In designing the straws Siljeur experimented with the use of various binding, emulsifying and deglazing agents in an effort to produce straws that are not sticky and do not affect the taste of a consumer’s drink. The texture of the final product is described as a mixture between liquorice and dried fruit.
Different bases are used to produce each of the three ranges. Gelatine is used as a base for the regular straws, plants for vegan straws and fruit for the health variety.
The straws are said to maintain their shape and don’t soften when placed in a wet substance. In addition, straws can be coloured and flavoured according to customer specifications.
To date, the edible straws are being sold in small batches of 10 to 20 informally to SU students, with future plans to produce more straws and sell them to businesses in Stellenbosch and other parts of the country.
Siljeur is partnering with SU’s Consulting Society and Accenture to expand production and to target markets such as fast-food outlets and health shops.