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Simple, locally grown rye straw could replace plastic straws

Valerina Changarathil, October 16, 2019 7:00PM The Advertiser

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Marion Vigot is making bio-degradable straws from rye straw. Picture: AAP media_cameraMarion Vigot is making bio-degradable straws from rye straw. Picture: AAP

environment

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Australian farmers are growing millions of natural, no-waste alternatives to plastic drinking straws every year.

Rye straws are a strong, hollow stalk from a family of grass plants mostly grown to produce rye grain, used in multigrain bread and crispbread biscuits and for flour to make rye bread.

The problem is, very few people know about or use this centuries-old invention. Farmers who grow rye may not even realise they’re producing a plastic straw alternative.

South Australian-based, French entrepreneur Marion Vigot is hoping to teach the world about rye straws — a cheap, sustainable, compostable, plastic-free drinking device that can be produced close to where it’s needed, which also cuts down on the fossil fuels needed for transport.

Travelling around Australia in a campervan with business partner Alexis Branlard first gave Ms Vigot, 28, an insight into the amount of plastic waste, including discarded straws, generated nationwide and threatening local ecosystems.

“We found no beach that was not littered with plastic, and decided there had to be a better way.

“Our research led us to find out that rye was the original straw, used hundreds of years before plastic,” Ms Vigot said.

Making bio-degradable straws from Rye plant media_cameraOlivia Ransome Gilding with co-owners Marion Vigot and Alexis Branlard. Picture: AAP

Then on a working holiday visa*, they applied to have their start-up business, Mister Rye, included under the Supporting Innovation in South Australia (SISA) temporary migration program.

Now, as recipients of the first visa under the SISA program, they have three years to develop a successful business built, for starters, on the sale of rye straws.

Mister Rye is launching a ReadyFundGo crowd-funding campaign on October 25 with commitment to start producing one million organic, biodegradable drinking straws before Christmas.

QLD_CP_EYE_FOOD_BAKEDONREDHILL_10NOV18 media_cameraMost people know rye as a flour or grain for bread. Picture: Stewart McLean

The two collected their first lot of rye stalks from a number of farmers in the SA Riverland for prototypes and will get into production once the grain harvest season finishes in a couple of weeks.

Funding supporters will be shipped orders in the new year, the crowd-funding page states.

“I am confident the straws are just the start; we will next look into what else we can do with something as sturdy as rye — and the Waite Campus (University of Adelaide) researchers are helping us with that.

“The straw itself is nothing but the hollow stalk, but we are using a third-party business to sterilise and package it, so there is not much manufacturing.

“That will be our point of difference to others in Australia importing biodegradable straws into Australia.

“We’ll aim to be a zero carbon footprint* business,” she said.

Mister Rye is part of ThincLab, the University of Adelaide’s international incubator* for new ideas and inventions, which operates in Australia, Singapore and France.

“That’s how we met Kath Cooper, a highly respected researcher and plant breeder for more than 25 years,” Ms Vigot said.

“Kath gave us different varieties of crops from 2005 and 2016 showing us rye was a strong and biodegradable product with a long shelf life.”

The SA Government earlier this year committed to introducing laws in 2020 to become the first state to ban plastic straws and cutlery, with takeaway polystyrene containers and cups to follow.

SA was the first state to ban lightweight plastic bags in 2009 and also the first to introduce the container deposit scheme.

Tight grouping of colorful straws media_cameraAustralians use billions of single-use plastic straws each year. Picture: iStock

MORE TO KNOW
Australians use about 10 million plastic drinking straws every day, or about 3.5 billion each year, according to Sustainability Victoria.

Many people who are ill or live with a disability can’t drink without a drinking straw, so we do need to find a plastic alternative.

Other straw materials being tried include:

  • PAPER, which takes up to two months to break down but can be too soggy to drink with before you’re finished your milkshake;
  • PASTA, which breaks down faster than paper, lasts for the duration of your cold drink but can’t be used for hot drinks;
  • STAINLESS STEEL, good for hot and cold drinks and is reusable, but is relatively expensive to make and buy and could cause a mouth injury if used by babies and toddlers.
Pasta straws media_cameraLucie Pike at a cafe called The Seller Door at Brighton, SA, with pasta straws as an enviro-friendly alternative to plastic. Picture: Tait Schmaal

Several companies around the world are also working on replacing glass bottles with paper alternatives. Denmark-based beer company Carlsberg this week launched a paper beer bottle that is fully recyclable. Other big companies with paper bottles in development include cosmetics company L’Oreal and Unilever, which makes food, drinks, personal products such as shampoo and soap and household cleaning products.

GLOSSARY

  • visa: a permit to allow someone to be in a country
  • zero carbon footprint: doesn’t produce any more carbon than it can use up
  • incubator: provides the right conditions tohelp things grow, such as eggs to produce chickens

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Turning plastic into something precious

QUICK QUIZ

  1. Why did Ms Vigot start thinking about an alternative to plastic straws?
  2. What will they have to do to the rye stalk before it is used as a straw?
  3. What did Kath show Ms Vigot?
  4. What is a benefit and a disadvantage of a stainless steel straw?
  5. What are companies suggesting they could use instead of glass and plastic bottles?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Create a sustainable design
Think about another ordinary plastic item you use every day. Design a sustainable, compostable, plastic-free alternative to this item.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking, Design and Technologies

2. Extension
ReadyFundGo is a crowd-funding site. Crowd-funding is a way of raising money online, usually through social media, asking people to donate or give money. To create a crowd-funding page, you need to include information about what you want the money for and why it’s important for people to help you.

What would you write and include on a crowd-funding page for your sustainable design? Write and design it.

There are lots of people and businesses using crowd-funding sites to raise money, so you need to be creative and very persuasive!

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking, Design and Technologies, Media Arts

VCOP ACTIVITY
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many pieces of punctuation as you can find in green. Discuss how these are being used, where and how often. What level of the punctuation pyramid is the journalist using in this article?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you still use plastic straws? Which alternatives have you tried or think is best? Do you have a better idea?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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