Roughly 8.5 billion plastic straws are used in the U.K. each year, but as a new ban takes effect next April, that number will shrink to zero. One startup is hoping to corner the market for alternative straws using an unlikely material: pasta.
“It ticks all the boxes in terms of functionality as a plastic straw that everyone’s been used to growing up,” says Maxim Gelmann, founder of Stroodles, the startup. The straws, made by an Italian manufacturer that also produces regular pasta, are the same shape and size as a standard plastic straw. Unlike a paper straw, they don’t taste like wet paper; they don’t change the flavor of the drink. They last at least an hour, and longer in colder drinks. “Let’s say you have your gin and tonic and then you refill it with ice, it goes even longer,” Gelmann says. If you’re nursing a drink for hours and the pasta eventually softens, you can choose to eat it (the raw straw is also edible, and Gelmann says that some people snack on them).
A handful of other pasta-straw startups also exist, though Stroodles is hoping to differentiate itself with a smoother, more plastic-like texture and its branding. It’s more expensive to make than a plastic straw, but at large volumes, it can compete with the cost of paper straws. Because of the coming ban, “no one really compares [us] with plastic anymore,” Gelmann says. “They compare [us] with paper straw prices, which makes my argument much easier.” Other alternatives, like bamboo or stainless steel, are more expensive and arguably a less elegant solution; some bars say that patrons don’t trust the idea that stainless steel straws can be fully sanitized. Another option—a plastic-like edible straw made from seaweed—may be more of a competitor.
The company doesn’t try to shame people into not using plastic. “No one wants to be preached to,” Gelmann says. But he’s hoping that seeing a straw made from pasta makes people briefly think about the issue of plastic waste. Based on a theory that it takes 12 touch points before someone decides to take action, he’s hoping that as the straws proliferate, they’ll be one part of a larger cultural shift that helps people consider shifting away from single-use plastic, first in the U.K. and Europe, and later in the U.S. as the company expands. “I’m not an eco-warrior. What I’ve created is basically to convince people like me who before weren’t as aware.”