Plastic has made its way in our daily lives and has become an integral part of it. One of the most common usage of it is the plastic straw, be it a roadside cafe or a coconut vendor on the road, everyone uses it. Do you know that a plastic straw takes more than a hundred years to decompose? Yes, it is indeed true and to find a sustainable alternative to these plastic straws, Sunam Taran, an entrepreneur based out of Assam has started making eco-friendly straws made up of wheat stubble.
With an increase in awareness about the harmful effects of Plastic nowadays people are using paper ones. But do these paper straws are the eco-friendly alternative as they claim to be? "Paper contains a lot of pulp which is hard to break down. Even though paper is biodegradable, it cannot be regarded as completely eco-friendly, "said Sunam while speaking to The EarthView.
He further said, “Many sustainable alternatives of plastic straws are available such as paper straws, metal straws as well as bamboo ones. But, none of them proved a convenient option for the hospitality industry as paper ones become too soggy, metal ones get stolen and bamboo is expensive. Therefore these single-use wheat straws are a sustainable and affordable option for the industry."
Sunam Taran, the founder of 7 Sisters Crafts, spoke about the idea of creating straw from wheat stubble. "Assam is the land of bamboo crafts. Hence the idea to start this brand to facilitate these craftsmen with a platform to sell their product. Though initially, we manufactured bamboo straws but due to its pricing being a bit on higher side (Rs.7 per piece), we noticed a slow down in sales. So, I started studying about making a straw that can be used once, is cheap, but also sustainable."
Accordingly, he began studying about plants and crops with hollow stems. He said, "Though initially, I planned to use jute stubble for straws. However, we dropped the idea due to its unpleasant smell. After a lot of research and examination, we decided to use wheat stubble. These straws can be made using the stems of wheat plants that farmers do not use. Firstly I made a few samples for myself using the stem and it worked well."
Sunam informed, "These unique wheat stubble straws cost only 80 paise per piece and it can cost cheaper if bought in bulk. It also decomposes within six months."
Sunam also explained the process of making these wheat stubble straws and informed that waste is purchased from the local farmers. He said, "The Agro- waste generated in the farms are often burnt by farmers causing air pollution. However, we purchase this waste from local farmers from neighboring villages and use in making straws. The stubble remains from harvested wheat has a naturally hollow stem, and to create STRAWS, the stems are hand-cut, triple-washed, and laid to dry in the sun. The process is labour intensive as no machinery is used."
He further said, "Once we collect the stubble, we boil it. Boiling helps in transferring the heat to the fiber that holds the straw together. Since only water is used in the process, (no chemicals, no bleach, no chlorine or petroleum) it is only wheat straw and therefore it is absolutely eco friendly."
"After that, once it becomes dry, we pack them and they are ready to be sold. These wheat straws are biodegradable and, unlike glass and paper straws, there is no such problem about cleaning or decomposing after use. Also, straws are not edible, but they are gluten-free which does not affect your health like the toxic chemicals of plastic straws," said Sunam.
Explaining the durability of the straw, Sunam said, 'it's been one year I have kept a bunch of straws in my office without letting them expose to air and they are as fresh as some newly produced goods, with no sign of fungus.'
7 Sisters Crafts started in August 2018 in Barpeta, a village in Assam is now a blooming eco-friendly handicraft enterprise operated by Sunam Taran, with the help of 1,300 artisan clusters who are regarded as the backbone of the venture. This artisan cluster is spread across villages like Raipur, Bhaluki, and Barpeta.
With the help of Bamboo as base craftsmen at 7 sister craft makes numerous items like chairs, fruit baskets, bottles, mugs, furniture, toothbrush and other interior decor entities. Around 500 different products are produced under this brand. 7 Sister Crafts have completed more than a lakh of wheat straw order and hoping to expand their business once the pandemic situation normalizes.
“What we are doing is providing an alternate option to people. So they become more aware of single-use plastic stuff and can better understand how to eliminate them,” says Sunam as he signs off.
Written By: Manoj Khetan