Moved by a Facebook post of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose, Leila Siljeur (19) felt she had to do something to help reduce plastic pollution. She decided to design her own brand of edible and environmentally friendly straws, and won R50 000 for her invention in a recent Allan Gray Orbis Foundation National Jamboree.

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 said.

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 added that the texture of the straws is a mixture between liquorice and dry fruit.

Leila Siljeur has created an alternative to plastic straws (Source: Stellenbosch University)

“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,” Siljeur said. “The vegan mix berry-flavoured straws have been selling well. We also have raspberry- and chocolate-flavoured straws.”

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 added.

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 it to these types of stores so that they can distribute them. Then it doesn’t come directly out of the consumer’s pocket.”

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.

Picture: Stellenbosch University

Article written by

Lucinda Dordley

Lucinda is a hard news writer who occasionally dabbles in lifestyle writing, and recent journalism graduate. She is a proud intersectional feminist, and is passionate about actively creating a world which is free of discrimination and inequality.