We’ve seen an increase in the popularity of plastic straw alternatives like metal, bamboo and paper straws in the last year or so in the name of saving the earth. Those are the common alternatives, but have you heard of edible rice straws before?
One company capitalising on the alternative straws industry is Penang-based NLYTech Biotech formed in December 2018. They recently launched a product called RiceStraws, which is, as the name suggests, rice straws that are also Halal-certified for consumption by Muslims.
The founders behind the company are CEO Law Yee Tee, Business Director Kenzo Lim, and IT Director Anddrew Loh. They’re bringing rice straws to the table because they believe they’re one of the more affordable alternatives available.
Familiar Straw Alternatives Aren’t As Eco-Friendly As You Think
NLYTech Biotech wants to do their part in reducing plastic use and wastage by introducing products (with RiceStraws being their first one) that are 100% biodegradable, made of natural ingredients and are edible.
Their rice straws are made of rice and tapioca—rice which makes up the bulk of the material with tapioca used as a coagulant. According to them, rice straws hold advantages over not just plastic ones (clearly), but also polylactic acid (PLA) ones which are vegetable-based bioplastic and even paper straws.
Kenzo said, “Paper straws are made from trees and has harmful environmental impacts due to deforestation. PLA straws and other PLA products become another form of plastic that will take years to break down in landfills and the ocean. PLA straws need to be composted under specific conditions and most countries do not yet have common facilities to compost PLA-based products, forcing them to end up in landfills.”
While metal straws can be used for a long time and bamboo straws can be used for a slightly extended period of time compared to paper ones, the former can lead to self-inflicted injuries if used carelessly and the latter brings up hygiene concerns.
If you own an F&B establishment, presenting your customers with metal straws could be risky as they’re a more expensive reusable straw option that tends to get stolen, and cleaning the metal straws properly takes more effort than simply throwing out used plastic ones, which could lead to a lack of hygiene by irresponsible F&B operators.
NLYTech Biotech believes that RiceStraws combats these issues by being easily compostable (they don’t require a commercial composting facility like PLA does and they decompose completely in 90 days), edible and because they’re made from resources that are bountiful in our region.
While they don’t exactly dissolve in drinks, they do soften up after a while. The rice straws can last for 2 to 3 hours in hot drinks and 4 to 10 hours in cold drinks.
Keeping The ASP Of RiceStraws Low
The company keeps the average selling price (ASP) of their rice straws relatively low at RM0.08 per piece based on volume (for comparison, plastic straws generally cost around 3 sen per piece). They’re able to do this by using fully-automated production lines as NLYTech Biotech is an extension of NLYTech Solution Sdn Bhd that deals with equipment and has an automation division.
In an exclusive video interview with Food Manufacture, CEO Law Yee Tee said that this means they’re able to design their own equipment that can produce “at least 100,000 pieces per hour” leading to a total of 2.4 million pieces produced per day if there is appropriate market demand.
The biggest challenge for the company so far has been convincing consumers to switch from plastic straws to biodegradable ones as the latter might cost more. “This is the major challenge we face when we try to penetrate into developing countries in the region. The next challenge in line will be custom regulatory, hence, we need help from our local distributors who are familiar with this.”
In Malaysia itself, Kenzo said that the reception of RiceStraws has been good because “the Malaysian government is gradually implementing plastic ban throughout the nation. However, creating awareness amongst the general Malaysians are also essential as not many are prepared to pay more to contribute to a more plastic-free environment.”
Striving To Become As Eco-Friendly As Possible
RiceStraws won in Asia Food Innovation Awards 2019’s Best Sustainable Packaging category, and they plan to take the eco-friendliness of their product one step further by recollecting used RiceStraws to be re-processed into animal food for chickens, fish, birds and other animals.
Some of the added benefits of RiceStraws according to Kenzo are that you have the option of buying them in an array of food-grade colours, the taste of them can be altered, and you can customise the diameter, length and logo print on them.
They also have a shelf life of 2 years, so buying them in bulk shouldn’t be a worry. Of course, these seem like options that cater to F&B establishments instead of your average Malaysian who carries around their own reusable straw.
For those concerned about the food safety certifications of RiceStraws, the product is certified according to HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) standards and complies with ISO 22000 (a food safety management standard developed by the International Organization for Standardization).
With the good response RiceStraws has received in major urban areas like Klang Valley, Selangor, Penang and Johor Bahru, Kenzo said they plan to expand their product range by producing cutlery made of rice and tapioca in the year 2020.
- You can find out more about RiceStraws here.
Featured Image Credit: NLYTech Biotech