A bamboo alternative to straw menace

A lime-soda, a glass of chilled fresh juice or an ice tea, the choice is umpteen for the customers to cool themselves as Kerala sweats in the sweltering heat this summer.
A bamboo alternative to straw menace

KOCHI: A lime-soda, a glass of chilled fresh juice or an ice tea, the choice is umpteen for the customers to cool themselves as Kerala sweats in the sweltering heat this summer. But, for the hundreds of restaurants, cafes and juice shops across the state, there is hardly any other choice when it comes to the use of straws. There are only plastic straws on offer and only a few premium restaurants offer alternatives. 

There have been attempts to promote bamboo straws, which have the immense potential not just as an environment-friendly option but also as a business opportunity for the entrepreneurs. 
Jose Dominic, a pioneer in responsible tourism in Kerala and former CEO of CGH Earth, a luxury hotel chain, recently posted a photo of a bamboo straw dipped in a glass, in his Facebook page saying that disruptive innovations like these are the need of the planet. The post triggered a debate on the viability of bamboo straws and the challenges they pose.

Gopinath Parayil, the founder of Kochi-based The Blue Yonder, a firm which is into responsible tourism, pointed out that bamboo straws have hardly anything innovative to claim. "Bamboo straws are rare, but not innovative. It’s been around for a while. Raw bamboo straws don't last long as it withers away after a few weeks. Still, it is the best possible alternative to plastic," he said in his Facebook post. 
According to him, Indonesia is a leader in processed bamboo straws and they are expensive. Irrespective of tourism footfalls in their destinations, it's still not a financially viable option, Parayil said. "We had proposed growing bamboo across Kerala for this purpose as it's a sustainable grass and can be cut in a year and regrown next year. This is a good possibility not only for tourism but also exports as long as we can find prices affordable. However, bamboo straws are a huge opportunity. Kerala entrepreneurs should seriously explore it," he said.

In 2017, the Association of Approved Classified Hotels of Kerala had launched a campaign called 'refuse the straw' as part of the environmental day, but eighteen months later, plastic straws are still ruling the roost. “We use about 100 to 150 straws a day and disposing of them was hard since the municipality hasn't regularly collected the garbage. So, we burn them along with the lemons,” said Thomas V, a juice vendor near St Teresa's College. 

While plastic is still widely used in many shops in Kerala paper straws might be an alternative. “Paper straws are much better than plastic as they are biodegradable and can be disposed easily and does not contaminate the environment," said Sijo Joy Varghese, General Manager of CGH Earth Group.
Despite the rising popularity of paper straws, other alternatives are also being explored. “We switched to bamboo straws last April. We switched from plastic to paper initially. But then we realised about the wax coating on paper straws to sustain it in a liquid medium for some time. We grow our own bamboo reeds and it costs us nothing,” said Harikrishnan Nair, General Manager of Spice Village Thekkady, commenting on their new initiative to move away from paper and try bamboo for the use of straws.

However, bamboo straws are not always seen as cost effective. “We use paper straws as its economically viable. If we were to use bamboo straws we'd have to wash it and sterilise it. The straws we buy have to be used within a week of purchase. Otherwise, it'll wither away,” said an official of the CGH Casino Hotel, Kochi citing that unless one grow their own bamboo, they can't economically afford it.

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