Dr. Saji’s innovation was motivated by the need to conserve the environment. A report published by India Today (2018) had cited that India creates 25,000 tons of plastic waste every single year of which only 9 percent is recycled. Committed to the cause of the environment, Saji works towards findings sustainable alternatives to plastics and other harmful environmental products.
Plastic straws are a classic example of single use plastics. Majority of these straws are made from Polypropylene, a material which is recycled. As a result, straws always end up in a landfill or in water bodies damaging marine wildlife.
Dr. Saji Varghese explains that the straws are made in a 100 percent chemical-free process. A simple cleaning and steaming process brings out the natural healthy wax of the leaf onto the surface making it antifungal and hydrophobic and so ideal for use as a straw. The straw has a shelf life of nine months and stays steady in beverages for more than six hours. Moreover, over two hundred multi-layered straws can be made out of a single frond of coconut implying that there can be no dearth of the raw material in the face of any rise of demand for these first of its kind fully customizable straws, available in the range of 3mm to13mm diameter for varied user demands
Dr. Saji Varghese’s invention will greatly contribute to the cause of the environment as it will reduce burning of leaves and also eliminate the use of single use plastic straws. Besides, it will also help to provide huge income income-generating opportunities to women in rural areas of India and in other coconut growing countries.
His invention gives a fillip to environmental sustainability and contributes substantially to the goals of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. Behind the invention of the ecological straws lies the heart of a man who deeply loves his country and is committed to saving the planet. Professor Varghese presented the project to the authorities of the Christ University and received funding support to develop the technology to mass-produce the straws. His company Blessing Palms Pvt Ltd, which is a start-up incubated at Christ University, has developed five machines in-house, which are patented.
His coconut straws have received several accolades including the Shrestha Udyami Guru Puraskar 2020 from the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII) and the First Position at Start-Up Launchpad by the ASSOCHAM, New Delhi.
The straw was shortlisted for the Climate Launchpad Award in the Netherlands and won the award for Best Innovation for Social Impact against 45 competing countries. The accolade gained the company international recognition and today it receives orders from countries such as Malaysia, the USA, UK, Germany, Australia, and the Philippines.
Status of innovation: In just two years, Saji has developed unique coconut leaf straws priced at Rs 3 to 10/straw. He claims to have received orders for more than 20 million straws from over 10 countries since he introduced the product in the market.
Saji aims to set up production centers in the villages of coastal India, installing machinery and employing women from the communities to collect the fallen dry fronds from the coconut trees to produce the straws. He has already set-up the first three centers in Madurai, Tuticorin and Kasaragod.