A year-old company called EQUO is out with its first line of products: Drinking straws made from grass, rice, coconut, sugarcane and coffee. And you can smell the ingredients and eat the rice straws: two improvements over the plastic, landfill-bound varieties.
Why drinking straws? Well, if you’ve ever thought about how luxurious it is to receive a straw at a restaurant, or use one at home, you know the answer. Maybe that’s just this author (and don’t forget reusable straws as an option).
“… We’re not just producing items and saying, ‘Here’s an eco-friendly product—use it,’ but we’re branding with bright colors and an eye-catching design to get the attention of consumers,” says Marina Tran-Vu, founder and CEO of EQUO (as in making eco the status quo).
“We’re saying that typically mundane commodities that you never thought twice about, like a straw and fork, cannot only be cool, but something you should care about your choice in.”
That’s another thing: The company also makes sustainable utensils, with plans to launch dishware and stationary that’s also 100% plastic-free, biodegradable and compostable.
Perhaps the most-important question for coffee lovers: Do the coffee straws give you any sort of caffeine boost? Unfortunately not.
“All of our straws, including our coffee straws, are tasteless,” Tran-Vu says. “However, take a whiff of the coffee straw and it will smell like freshly brewed coffee. If you are hankering for a snack and get hangry mid-way through your drink, our rice straw is not only functional but also edible.”
Each of the straw types are a little bit different.
The rice straws are made from rice and tapioca starch and are available in plant-based colors (from fruit and vegetable juices), including white, green, pink, blue and yellow. After use, they can be cooked down into congee (porridge) or eaten by themselves for a crunchy snack.
The dried grass straws are made from naturally tube-shaped grass. Besides being used as a straw, you can toss them to your dog. “They are a great natural chew/tug-of-war toy for pets, or you can crunch them if fidgety to get the same satisfaction as popping bubble wrap. You can even gather a bunch of them together to make a natural at-home bee-hive.”
The coconut straws are made from fermented coconut water, offering a tropical twist on an everyday product, and available in ivory white with a cool textured design, the CEO says.
The sugarcane straws are made from sugarcane bagasse (pulp), with a light sweet aroma, and available in a variety of sizes, including wide sizes for specialty drinks like bubble tea. They can be reused within the same day.
The coffee straws are made from coffee grounds and never get soggy, according to Tran-Vu.
Pay Now or Pay Later
The straws aren’t cheap. A pack of 50 sells for $12.
“Our goal is that we can get enough people to buy our products, particularly large corporations, food chains and restaurant groups, then we will be able to drive efficiencies in our production to reduce our cost,” Tran-Vu says.
“ … What we try to remind consumers is that every plastic straw ever made since 1888 is still around on the Earth today—and we’re seeing them everywhere—in our oceans, in our parks and even in unborn fetuses. While the price may be higher than what they are used to right now, they are investing in the future of the planet, the environment and future generations of humans. If they choose to go for plastic, they may not be paying for it now, but someone, somewhere in the future, will be paying for it later.”
EQUO products boast a number of certifications, including from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They are sourced from “local regions” in Vietnam and Taiwan, meaning the materials are local agricultural resources that are commonplace and grown in abundance in those areas.
“My parents are Vietnamese and I had moved to Vietnam about two years ago to help them out, despite being born and raised in Canada,” the CEO explains.
“Landing in Vietnam, I discovered just how quickly it was developing. Not only that, it was a chance to connect with my heritage which I am eternally grateful for.
“With the inspiration of trying to bridge the gap between Vietnam and the rest of the world, building a sustainable future for my newborn nephew, working to support local economic growth and job creation from her parent’s hometown, and the desire to raise Vietnam’s profile as a global leader in sustainability and innovation, I decided to start EQUO.”
The company also partners with a number of nongovernmental organizations such as Skip the Plastic Straw, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Hannah4Change and Techstars. EQUO was launched via Kickstarter in June 2020.
“As a sole female founder, and product-based versus being tech-forward, it is extremely difficult for us to raise funds,” the CEO says. “Working together with Techstars, we’re working to change the statistics of the investment world, where sole female founders represent only 2.4% of all venture dollars invested.”
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