From the Meghalaya’s rain forest, in hidden North-East India, a solution to one of the biggest environmental issues in the world: the use of plastic straws. This is the hand-made, organic and zero impact bamboo straw created by product designer Kriya Rynjah.
Nope, I haven’t been in North-East India (yet!), so I could not witness personally the production of this bamboo straw. Instead, I have met Kriya and her family in Delhi, we started talking about environmental issues, and it turns out she owns Megha Dream, a small, recently formed local company that makes Bamboo lifestyle products. She showed me a fantastic traveller set she was carrying along, which includes a knife, fork and spoon, a pair of chopsticks, a stirrer, and something that really caught my interest, a bamboo straw!
Now, I believe we have all seen those horrible images of people extracting plastic straws from the nostril of a sea turtle, or from the belly of many other, death, marine species and birds. No need to comment any further, solutions are needed, and solutions come from environmentally aware, entrepreneurial people. So, I got curious about her project and started asking some questions, with the right amount of scepticism, which, I must admit, quickly faded out.
A ZERO IMPACT STRAW
“I have started making bamboo straws because I was asked by some local businesses. They knew I was working on lifestyle natural products” Kriya explained. Bamboo straws are not a novelty as such, but most of this kind of things are produced in China. The idea was to start producing them locally. So she learned the process and got to work. “However, at one point I was asked to start using machines in order to increase speed and reduce costs. I didn’t like this idea, I thought it went against the principle of creating something without environmental impact. In the end, I lost those clients, but I continued making the straws the way I envisioned it.”
Kriya studied product design in the UK, but she is originally from the tribal society of the Meghalaya’s rain forest, where she went back to live with her daughter Parvati and her French-born husband Laurige, owner of an ethically responsible travel company. Baá, meaning bamboo, is the quintessence of rural life in all of North-East India and it symbolizes good fortune. “We want to do what the locals do,” said Kriya, which is to use bamboo to make objects useful for everyday life, while re-connect ourselves with the earth by adopting a sustainable way of living.
Her products have a contemporary perspective in design, but she employs skilled local artisans to both harvest the bamboo and transform it. “It is really helpful for the community to get some extra work, and like this the production of these straws has really zero impact on the environment. I don’t even need electricity to make them, it’s a fully natural process that needs bamboo, water, sun, and the work of human beings.”
HOW IS THE STRAW MADE?
The local name of the bamboo plant used for this straw is “siej skhen” and it is sourced from the South-West Khasi hills. It grows wild, and apparently, it re-grows very quickly in the rainforest. When the locals deliver the bamboo at the workshop, it needs to undergo a natural processing to be made into straws.
First of all it is cut into two regular sizes of about 15 cm and 25 cm. Then starts a process called leaching. This is needed to get rid of all the starch, which is food for bacteria and the like. The bamboo is soaked in water solution with edible lime for 4-5 days. Then it is washed, and re-soaked in fresh water for about a week. During this process it loses starch in the form of a white, oily liquid. Finally, it needs a manual cleaning to remove the internal sheath.
After the leaching, it is sun-dried until it obtains a nice brown colour. The two ends of the straw are then sandpapered to give it a smooth finish. That’s it, it is ready to be used!
HOW TO USE THIS BAMBOO STRAW
These straws can be used up to 600 times, depending on the type of use and how good their maintenance is done. They should be hand washed in a light soap solution, and sanitize in water and vinegar about once a week. If you are interested, do get in touch with Kriya to discuss the price and details through the Facebook page provided in the hyperlink above.
This is all. I believe this is a fantastic product, coming from the entrepreneurial spirit of one woman, and her wish to do something useful for both her community and the world. It’s a simple local solution, to a serious global problem. I would certainly love to go to any bar or restaurant and see they use bamboo straws instead of plastic ones.
A FINAL SOLUTION?
Is bamboo a final solution to the use of plastic straws? Certainly not. I don’t have any hard data, but my guess is that it is unlikely the whole world could be supplied with bamboo straws. However, the environmental advantages of such naturally produced straw, and other lifestyle products, cannot be disregarded.
It is certainly a complementary solution. I believe this is the best one, but I have seen other substitute to plastic straws, such as iron made ones, or those made with edible material, or with paper. There are creative people out there, luckily!
Government regulation would also be very welcome in tackling this issue. When are we going to make the production of unnecessary plastic items such as straws illegal? The reply to this question unfortunately has to do with power, and money, because there is no logical argument that might convince me of the need to keep this industry going.
Yet, in the end the real answer to such an issue rests with each and every one of us. Once you are aware of the seriousness of a problem, there are no more excuses. There is no looking at the governments, or waiting for solutions provided by others. As long as there is a demand, there will be someone to provide a supply. So, when you go out for a drink, when you organize a party, when you get a fruit juice at any stand on the street, refuse to be served a straw, or in a plastic glass or plate for that matter. It is not so hard.