South African varsity student develops ecofriendly edible straws to promote sustainability

SOUTH AFRICA – As companies strive towards developing innovative ways of tackling plastic waste, Leila Siljeur, a Chemical Engineering student at Stellenbosch University (SU) in South Africa has joined the drive by developing edible straws.

Siljeur has designed edible and environmentally friendly straws coming in three ranges; gelatine for regular straws, plants for vegan straws and fruit for the health variety and can be coloured and flavoured as per customer specifications.

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The design of the straws, whose texture is a mixture between liquorice and dry fruits, was developed as a trial and error undertaking of using different binding, emulsifying and deglazing agents.

This resulted to the development of a non-sticky, non-mushy straw when placed in a wet substance and does not affect the taste of the customer’s drink.

Siljeur currently produces them in mix berry, raspberry and chocolate flavours. Together with her team she has been selling small batches of 10 to 20 edible straws informally to SU students since last year.

To support the innovation, Allan Gray Orbis Foundation in South Africa has awarded Siljeur R50 000 to further scale up production.

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She plans to produce more straws and sell them to businesses in Stellenbosch and other parts of the country.

“Even though companies are producing biodegradable straws, some still end up in the ocean posing a threat to marine life. We want to sell a massive batch to different businesses.’’

‘’We ideally would like to roll out in fast food chains like KFC, McDonalds and health shops. We would like to sell it to these types of stores so that they can distribute them. Then it doesn’t come directly out of the consumer’s pocket.” Siljeur stated.

Mid this year, KFC South Africa, a subsidiary of the fast food giant announced that it will eliminate all plastic straws in over 900 restaurants across South Africa by July 1.

The move forms part of a new global sustainability commitment from the business that all plastic-based packaging items will be recoverable or reusable by 2025, helping to eliminate 60 million plastic straws a year.

As part of its ongoing efforts to adopt more sustainable practices, the brand has already removed disposable plastic beverage cups from its KFC head office.

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