Last Tuesday, UC Irvine’s first annual Fall Sustainability Fair packed sudents, faculty, and staff onto the basketball courts of the Middle Earth housing community. College-affiliated organizations offered their regular swag, but at the Straw Free booth, the prize was bamboo straws.
Diana Lofflin, founder of the startup, aims to eliminate single use plastic straws via educational and business outreach, as well as pursuing alternatives. The main product, bamboo straws, reinforce a dedication to reducing waste.
“Ideas are more memorable when you have a physical reminder”, she explained.
The UCI communications officer realized the necessity of a greener alternative during a clean up session on the beach. “500 million straws are used by the U.S. annually,” Diana remarked. “That’s 564 per person per year. So by 2050 – within our lifetime – there’s going to be more plastic in the ocean than fish.”
While the first step was to convince her partner and current Straw Free Director of Operations, Ben Green, to refrain from using single use plastic straws at his lemonade stand, the next was to find the actual alternative. Ben realized that instead of buying it, they could manufacture it; he also worked at a landscaping company whose clients let their bamboo be harvested into reusable straws.
“Bamboo is organic, completely compostable, and decreases landfill waste,” said the founder.
The team does not just include Diana, Ben, and Education and Outreach Intern Vanida to educate and market. Over ten volunteers help to harvest and construct bamboo straws, and support has also come from the ANTrepreneur Center’s consultations and meetings.
The firm has been a great opportunity to pick up valuable entrepreneurial insights, too. So much of a startup requires desire – not only for the business people but also the target audience.
“It can’t just be about making money. Starting a social movement is hard; it’s hard to make people change habits that have become second nature,” reflected Diana.
She estimates that each bamboo straw can last up to six months, but the firm has bright prospects beyond that time frame. Straw Free expects to enter the consumer market in 2017, and continues to educate on colleges and primary education schools on the power of living green.