Saji Varghese an associate professor at the Department of English, Christ University, Bengaluru invented a straw out of coconut leaves. When he noticed several dry coconut leaves lying on the campus ground, he tried to search for an use of those other than burning. Saji told,
Each year a coconut tree naturally loses upto 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.
In October 2017, he came out with a single layer coconut leaf straw as the first sample. But by 2018, with the help of a team comprising students from Christ University and design engineers who helped developed in-house machinery for large scale production, Saji created coconut leaf straws that ranged from 3mm to 13mm. The straws are priced at Rs 3-10. The straws received a patent in 2018 and are now sold under the brand name, Sunbird Straws.
The straw samples were sent to countries like Malaysia, the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Spain and Germany where the authorities approved the product and also placed orders for a total 20 million straws. The professor set up three units in villages of Madurai, Kasargod and Tuticorin and employed women who collect dry leaves and make the straws with machines. Several hotel chains like JW Marriot have also approached the company to place bulk orders. Saji explains,
The coconut leaves undergo a three-step cleaning process which we follow with scraping and rolling. All this is done by the in-house machinery so that the straw is hygienic. Besides this, we use a food-grade adhesive for glue, making it free of chemicals. 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.
Neena Gupta, 32, an entrepreneur based in the United States who has been buying these straws for over a year shares,
I fell in love with these straws when I first used them. They are so durable and don't get soggy like paper straws. I was surprised that they were single-use. I've used many natural straws but these by far are the best that I've come across.