Why ditching straws is more powerful than you think.

Did you know bamboo is actually a giant grass? Yes, bamboo isn’t a tree, it’s a very, very, very tall grass with woody stems. One of the fastest growing plants in the world, some of the world’s largest bamboo can grow over 40 metres. 

Widely found in the Philippines, the country is the fifth largest bamboo exporter and typically use the material for furniture. It was Mark Sultan Gersava, founder of Bambuhay, and self-declared “Chief Executive Farmer”, who saw the potential of using bamboo as a substitute material for plastic.

Sadly, plastic has become so common in ocean pollution that traces of plastic can be found in large quantities in seabirds and even in fish sold at supermarkets. It’s worse when it comes to single-use plastic like straws. Because they’re made of really thin plastic, it breaks down into microbeads which enter our food chain through fish.

We’re all guilty of using straws for a few minutes and tossing them without thinking twice. Although eliminating straws may seem almost inconsequential in the grand scheme of things but giving up straws is an easy first step. Bamboo is both malleable and sturdy, and its hollow shape and thinness make it an ideal substitute for drinking straws.

Bamboo is also considered one of the most remarkable natural materials. Bamboo is quickly renewable, growing faster than any other plant; low in carbon emissions, absorbing up to 12 tons of carbon dioxide per 2.5 acres in a single year, and has antibacterial qualities.

“Growing up in the rural Philippines, bamboo was considered “poor timber”, but I remember drinking water from the spring with bamboo as a child. Bamboo is an extremely eco-friendly alternative to many everyday products in the food industry,” says Mark.

In the beginning, there were no market for bamboo straws. Perhaps people simply didn’t know that bamboo straws existed. But, thanks to global movements against straws, and Bambuhay’s campaign against single-use plastic products, Bambuhay has sold over 250,000 straws, and is available in countries as far flung as Canada and Germany. Bambuhay will also be available in Singapore soon.

Even though they have sold hundreds of thousands of straws, the Bambuhay’s operations remain humble. The people behind the scenes are 37 farming families in the rural Philippines. But they aren’t just employees. Chief Executive Farmer, Mark co-owns the company with these farmers.

The enterprise isn’t just interested in saving the environment, it also has a social mission. The business has provided employment opportunities to vulnerable groups that would typically be recruited by Filipino insurgencies. Farmers living below the poverty line have now tripled their monthly income. This has gone a long way in giving them access to things previously unimagined like healthcare, insurance and education.

So, the next time you take a sip from a Bambuhay bamboo straw, remember you’re not just saving the earth!

Bambuhay is one of the ten finalists participating at the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia finalists. Check out the other finalists here.

For more ways on how to reduce your carbon footprint, click here.

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