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Matie’s student invents prize-winning edible straw

A passion for environmental sustainability recently bagged a second-year Chemical Engineering student at Stellenbosch University (SU) a substantial cash prize – and there appears to be significant commercial interest and potential for her edible straws.

Moved by a Facebook post featuring the now infamous picture of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose, Leila Siljeur (19, above) 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. The money will go towards developing her product and business plan.

Registered under the name Eat Me Straws, 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.”

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.”

The great thing is, even if you do not want to eat it, you can simply throw it out into the garden and it biodegrades.

Leila Siljeur, Stellenbosch University student

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.

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.

Source: Stellenbosch University

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