Her passion for environmental sustainability has 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 and environmentally friendly straws.
She won R50 000 for her invention in a recent Allan Gray
Orbis Foundation National Jamboree.
Registered under the name Eat Me Straws, Ms Siljeur’s straws come in three ranges – regular, health and vegan – and don’t become mushy when you put them in a wet substance.
She believes this is an improvement on what has been done thus far with edible straws. “Even though companies are producing biodegradable straws, some still end up in the ocean posing a threat to marine life.”
Ms Siljeur says when she started designing the straws, she played around with different binding, emulsifying and deglazing agents, because she didn’t want sticky straws that could affect the taste of the customer’s drink.
She points out that the texture of the straws is a mixture between liquorice and dry fruit.
“The straws can be coloured and flavoured as per customer specifications.
“We use different bases for the three ranges – gelatine for regular straws, plants for vegan
straws and fruit for the health variety.”
“The vegan mix berry-flavoured straws have been selling well. We also have raspberry- and chocolate-flavoured straws.”
Ms Siljeur says she and her team have been selling small batches of 10 to 20 edible straws, informally, to SU students since last year. “The feedback from the students who have bought the straws was positive. They love the straws.”
She plans to produce more straws and sell them to businesses in Stellenbosch and other parts of the country.
“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 them to these types of stores so that they can distribute them. Then, it doesn’t come directly out of the consumer’s pocket.”
Ms Siljeur says the money she won will come in handy, as they look to expand, adding that they’re partnering with SU’s Consulting Society and Accenture in Cape Town.
Alec Basson is a senior science writer at Stellenbosch University.