However, paper straws and other alternatives have been met with much criticism.
“Paper straws are still a single-use, disposable consumer item—a greener option, but not a green one,” as stated in The Case Against Paper Straws by The Atlantic. “Making a paper straw requires growing a tree, cutting it down, and pulping and pressing it into a tube. Manufacturers then use fossil fuels to ship the straws to stores and cafés. Many paper straws on the market are not even compostable or recyclable, as promised.”
Similar, metal straws pose a series of problems for both the environment and the establishments that use them.
“Metal straws might be better for the environment, if they are used often enough,” the article continued. “But restaurants report high rates of theft—meaning they need to restock metal straws regularly. And making them requires environmentally destructive mining and considerable amounts of energy.”
EQUO, a startup based in Vietnam, has launched its first set of products to offer an alternative to single-use plastics: edible straws that are biodegradable, compostable, non-toxic, chemical-free and affordable. The straws are suitable for hot and cold drinks alike and can last for hours without getting soggy.
“Although there are some plastic and paper straw alternatives on the market, most are environmentally harmful through the carbon footprint they make in production and disposal, and we were also unsatisfied with the quality and durability of paper straws,” explained EQUO co-founder and managing director Marina Tran-Vu in a statement.
The name of the company combines “eco” and “status quo,” in that the company aims to create products with minimal harm to the environment.
Tran-Vu, who is Vietnamese-Canadian, was first inspired to found the company during a trip to Vietnam. During a trip to Saigon, she used a dried grass straw at a local coffee shop and realised it was a great alternative to plastic and paper straws.
“Travelling the world and seeing the massive amount of plastic and garbage in the forests, oceans, beaches and sidewalks breaks my heart,” she said. “I really want future generations to have a chance at experiencing a better Earth.
As an experienced brand manager in North America, she believed that such a product would be popular in Canada, the US and Australia while also supporting local Vietnamese farming communities where her parents grew up.
“Vietnam is a nation with a long-standing agricultural culture so it has an extremely rich and abundant source of agricultural products, which can be a valuable resource in the future,” she told CultureMagazin. “However, it has been inadvertently ignored by most foreign investors. Through EQUO’s projects, I want to bring Vietnamese products to consumers in most of the big markets such as Canada, America, Australia, as well as European countries in the future.”
Four options are currently available, all with unique characteristics and uses.
Rice straws, made from rice and tapioca starch, can be cooked down after use. They’re also available in a variety of sizes and colours.
Coconut straws are made from fermented coconut water, offering a “tropical twist” with a textured design.
Sugarcane straws are meant to be reusable. Similar to the rice straws, they’re available in a variety of sizes, including cocktail, standard, boba and extra long.
Dried grass straws, similar to the straws that inspired Tran-Vu to found the company, are made from naturally tube-shaped grass. The company also states that these can be used as toys for pets.
In an interview with Bio Market Insights, Tran-Vu expressed that EQUO aims to offer an accessible sustainable option—meaning the company is not trying to force sustainability upon those who are not ready to embrace it.
“I don’t fault anyone for prioritising other matters over selection of eco-friendly materials, and that’s true as one of the pillars for EQUO,” she explained. “We don’t want to call-out or shame anyone for using plastic or what other type of material they can get their hands on during this time or in other situations. What we want to do is say, ‘Look, we want to introduce to you and show you that there are more sustainable options out there.’ When you’re ready or able, we can provide those options to you and it’ll be an easy switch.
“People will make the switch, we just have to be patient and do our part to make sure we keep driving awareness and education.”
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber