Chance observation leads English professor to invent coconut leaf straws

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In India, an English professor is working to address the populous country’s plastics waste crisis by turning waste coconut leaves into straws.

Saji Varghese, of Christ University in Bengaluru, tells India Times the idea came to him in 2017 when he noticed the shape a fallen coconut leaf on campus took. “I picked it up and noticed that the dry leaf had folded, giving it the shape of a straw,” he said. After using food-grade glue, he was able to produce a workable, biodegradable coconut leaf straw with a shelf life of a year.

Dubbed SunBird, he now exports the green innovation to 25 countries including the US.

Most plastic straws are too light to be properly sorted by recycling plant equipment, and many end up in oceans with devastating impacts on marine environments.

Varghese’s invention also provides an outlet for waste coconut leaves, which are often burnt in landfills, and employment for urban and rural poor in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.