To reduce the negative impact on the environment, many businesses and individuals have switched to sustainable products. One such important switch has been using alternatives to plastic straws. Many restaurants across the country are now serving beverages with straws made from materials like paper, bamboo, wheat stubble, and metal.
Evlogia Eco Care, a Bengaluru-based startup founded in 2018, is one such organization making eco-friendly straws named ‘Kokos Leafy Straws’, made using dried coconut leaves.
“While the midrib that holds the coconut leaves are used to make brooms, the leaves are discarded as agricultural waste at the farms. The straws are made using those discarded leaves after they undergo an intense cleaning process,” says Manigandan Kumarappan, the founder of the startup.
How is the straw made?
The dried coconut leaves are procured from four farms located in Tamil Nadu – Palani, Dindigul, Madurai, and Ottanchathiram.
Here, women are employed in farms run by NGO-supported Self Help Groups. Each farm has a varying number of women who collect these leaves, wash them under running water, and dry them under the sun for a few days.
“The leaves are then sent across to the production unit in Bengaluru which is also the head office. Here, it undergoes a pressure-heating process which is a deep clean method. Using a machine developed in-house, the leaves are washed in 120 degrees celsius steam which helps to make them soft and roll them easily into straws.”
At the production unit, Manigandan has currently employed 15 women from the local neighborhood in Kanakapura who roll the leaves into straws.
“With the help of three in-house employees, we made a rolling machine which is like a sewing machine that helps to roll the leaves into straws. The device is powered manually by applying pressure from the feet. This helps to roll the leaves by maintaining the desired diameter of 3 millimeters,” he says.
Finally, using a cutting machine the straws are cut into a standard size of 8.25 inches. But, Manigandan says, if a customer places a bulk order, the size can be adjusted according to their requirement. The straw can be made in a size ranging from 4 inches to 12 inches. Based on the size the price varies from Rs.1.5 to Rs 3.
From preparing the raw material to packaging the final product, the work is entirely done by women. Manigandan claims the product can be kept in hot beverages for half an hour and cold beverages for up to 6 hours.
The inspiration behind the product
The founder, Manigandan has previously worked with several Multinational Companies. In 2016, he decided to leave the corporate life and become an entrepreneur. On that note, he started Tenco – a company that sells half-trimmed coconuts over e-commerce platforms.
“The product was delivered to the customer along with a plastic straw. But, some customers gave us feedback about the same and requested that we switch to a sustainable alternative. This made us think about what we could do, and soon we stumbled upon the idea of using coconut leaves which are the least used product from the tree,” says Mani adding that the leaves are sturdy, and can even pierce through tetra packs without bending.
Nakul Mysore Jayaram, the owner of World of Coffee Cafe in Chikmagalur has been using the product since September 2019. He says this straw is more versatile compared to paper straws which he used earlier to serve beverages.
“The coconut leaf straw is sturdy and does not get soggy like paper straws. Earlier customers used to complain about the paper straws and would request to replace it repeatedly or ask for a plastic one. But with the coconut leaf one we have had no complaints from the customers,” says Nakul.
About the startup
The company was founded in 2018 along with his wife Radha Manigandan. The duo raised seed investments supported by Hindustan Petroleum. In January 2019, the production of straws began with one employee which has now grown to 15 employees.
Earlier, the company was making 100 straws/ day, now, their capacity has increased to 10,000 in a day.
Manigandan says, “We had only a rolling machine to maintain the size of straws, but could not increase production capacity as the pressure-heating sterilization had to be done using a cooking grade pressure cooker. This could hold only a few leaves at a time, and the process took 50-60 minutes. Three months ago, we introduced the pressure-heating machine which was made in-house with the help of three engineers who are interns turned full-time employees. Though this machine takes the same time to sterilize the leaves, it can hold a larger capacity and help to produce 10,000 straws in one day.”
Currently, the straws are being distributed across Canada, UAE, Germany, USA, and a handful of restaurants in Bangalore. Apart from straws, the startup has also ventured into making air-tight food containers from Areca leaves.
If you wish to place an order for the straws, you can contact the startup through their website.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)