There is nothing more “sucky” than when a paper straw collapses while you’re trying to sip your drink. So a Stellenbosch University student decided to create an edible straw that would allow people to enjoy their drinks and still be environmentally-conscious.
Leila Siljeur, 19, a second-year chemical engineering student, told News24 her idea came about while in an entrepreneurship session with her mentor at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation.
“Paper straws are useless. After five minutes, you’re eating paper,” she said on Tuesday between classes.
“I remember thinking this is so backward and we really need to move forward.”
After long sessions of strategising with her mentor, she set up a team of eight female students and started researching and playing around with different binding, emulsifying, and deglazing agents.
“I experimented again and again until I got something that actually worked.”
And so Eat Me straws was born – with Siljeur as the sole owner of the business.
She has three ranges – regular, vegan, and health – and the texture mimics that of liquorice. The vegan uses a plant-based protein, while the health has fruit flavours with zero sugar.
Siljeur said that they had been selling very small batches.
With the niche market in Stellenbosch, the mixed berry vegan straw was the most popular. Children loved the flavour of the strawberry and chocolate straws.
There was also the option of an alcohol-infused straw, which could be used at bars or restaurants.
“I was experimenting yet again and there are not a lot of preservatives that are readily available for a student to get over the counter at the pharmacy,” Siljeur said with a laugh.
“…But alcohol is. It came about by accident and turned out really well.”
Earlier this year, Siljeur won R50,000 for her straws in an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation National Jamboree.
With the funding, they could now set in motion the processes to meet SABS standards, which would take between three and six months.
“Then we can mass-produce and supply to places like Spar and Pick n Pay.”
She was also eyeing fast-food chains.
Once her studies were over, Siljeur said she definitely planned to become a businesswoman instead of a chemical engineer.
“It’s a funny story. I told my mom I want to save the planet and I want to do that through chemical solutions.”
She said her parents in Port Elizabeth were overwhelmed by her success but proud and had her back.
“My hobby has turned into a full-blown business!”