Student creates prizewinning edible straws

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Leila Siljeur

It was her passion for environmental sustainability that prompted second year Stellenbosch University Chemical Engineering student Leila Siljeur to come up with the concept of an edible straw.

Siljeur’s innovative concept recently resulted in her winning R50 000 in the Allan Gray Foundation's National Jamboree.

These edible straws, called Eat Me Straws, have the advantage that they do not get soggy in liquids like paper straws and they are much more eco-friendly than plastic straws.

The straws’ texture is a mixture between drop sweets and dry fruits, the straws are made out of gelantine, plants and fruits with various flavours such as berry and chocolate.

Siljeur tells more.

Leila please tell us more about Eat Me Straws. It is basically edible straws right? Please tell us more about the concept and what these straws are made of. There are also different flavours?

The straws are both biodegradable and edible. I based it off of a model of trying to synthetically recreate an apple skin, which is both edible and insoluble in liquid substances. They're made of a combination of various plant proteins (completely vegan) and our new standard flavor range as we look to expand will be: mixed berry, pineapple, granadilla, apple, and lemon&mint.

What makes these straws different from other types of bio-degradable straws?

Inherently, the main difference is that the straws are edible. Moreover, the regular biodegradable straws you find require industry grade composting facilities to decompose, so if they end up in the ocean, they pose the same threat to marine life as the plastic straws. If an Eat Me Straw ends up in the ocean, the turtle gets lunch.

How did you come up with the idea of making edible straws?

It was just one of those crazy ideas, but the more I started speaking about it to my mentor, the more I started believing it was feasible.

What was the design process like turning this concept into an actual product? How long did it take? And how do you make them?

So I kind of broke down plastic into have flexible, rigid and simultaneously insoluble characteristics and looked for the different chemical components in food which could mimic those as best as possible. Taking apple skin for example, I looked for the specific components in the skin which made it insoluble and incorporated it. It took me about 6 months to come up with a functional model and thereafter I kept improving it to the point where it is now.

What were the challenges making these straws?

The biggest challenge was definitely lack of access to materials to make the straw. Needless to say, you can't exactly take a walk to clicks and ask them for some Sodium Benzonate over the counter. (Sodium Benzonate is a compound often used for food preservation)

How are these straws contributing to a more sustainable environment?

Eat Me Straws hopes to enable future generations to use straws sustainably. 

What inspired you to contribute to a more sustainable environment by making a product like this?

Green is the future - when people actually wake up and start prioritizing it is just a matter of time. What I've found is that as much as people love the principle of saving the environment and going green, most will practically still choose the accessible and convenient option. That being said, I started Eat Me Straws to bridge that gap and in essence innovatively enable individuals and organizations to accessibly and conveniently use straws.

Where does you passion for the environment come from?

I love nature - the complexity, the balance and the beauty. I believe that the role of people as caretakers or managers of the environment is super important and under-emphasized. On that premise, its super sad to see how we, as people, continue to destroy the world and I want to make a difference.

Are these straws for sale?

Not at the moment, the official launch will be in March 2020 once product testing and certification is complete.

What does the future hold for Eat Me Straws?

I think long-term what Eat Me Straws hopes to do is enable future generations to use straws sustainably, and in that way, contribute to a more sustainable environment.

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