University of Sussex graduate Alex Bruce founded Turtle Straws last year after coming up with a new idea to combat plastic waste.
The company uses wheat stems to make the straws, which are a natural waste product that can be sourced anywhere in the world.
Unlike the widely adopted paper straws, Turtle Straws do not go soggy, and no trees need to be cut down for their production.
Alex, who graduated in 2013 with a degree in biomedical science, said: “It amazes me that we haven’t been using these instead of their plastic counterparts for years because they’re just so simple.
“But I’m excited to see people adopting them and realising their use now.”
The 28-year-old said he had the idea for the straws while he was helping his mum clean out her horse’s stable.
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He said: “After university I had an inkling that I wanted to do something for myself and I wanted to do something good.
“I had just been travelling in Australia and had seen the ways they were tackling plastic waste.
“Some places are better than others, but everyone out there had a reusable bottle, for example.
“I had also been made very aware of the plastic problem on beaches I had been working on, as after finishing at Sussex I worked as a nanny in Turkey and Greece, where I would also teach kids to sail and windsurf.
“I was in my mum’s horse stables one Saturday morning and I just had a lightbulb moment. So I bought a load of straw and made some prototypes.”
Alex said the name for the business was inspired by a widely shared video online of a turtle which had a plastic straw stuck up its nose.
He said: “The name Turtle Straws started out as a joke, as a way of getting the website higher up on Google search rankings.
The idea was that even if it wasn’t the top search result, by the time people had scrolled down and found the website they would be feeling so guilty about all the plastic that they would buy some.”
Turtle Straws now supplies businesses with completely biodegradable straws in more than 35 countries around the world and reached the two million sales milestone when a small wine company in New Zealand, JG Wine and Drinks, became Alex’s latest customer.
However, Alex said he was not always so aware of environmental issues.
He said: “To be honest, back when I was a student I would have described myself as a typical bloke who was not concerned with the environment.
“But the more time I’ve spent trying to market this product, the more I have learned about how we can all help reduce waste.
“It can seem incredibly overwhelming when we’re constantly being bombarded by devastating facts in the news and on social media, but everyone really can do their bit – whether it’s simply buying a box of Turtle Straws, remembering to take your reusable bag to the supermarket, or eliminating plastic from your home entirely.”
Alex said studying at the University of Sussex helped prepare him for running a business.
He said: “Before I went to university I was quite nervous. During my time at Sussex I learned from the people I was around how to interact well, which is really important for running a business and selling a product.
“I did a trip to Sri Lanka in September to meet with hotel chains about buying some Turtle Straws, and to raise awareness about plastic pollution. Being able to start a good conversation and pitch your product is crucial.”
Alex is proud of his sales so far with Turtle Straws but he hopes more businesses will make the change to using his product instead of plastic or paper alternatives.
He said: “The straws are made from wheat stems but they are totally gluten-free, and they are made from waste material which would otherwise be burned.
“Knowing I have allowed two million plastic straws to be substituted with a truly environmentally friendly alternative is rewarding, but I feel like it’s a drop in the ocean – pardon the pun. Now I want to see that number hit ten million, as then I will feel like we are really making a difference.
“I would like to improve things every single day, with small, sustainable steps.”
Published on theargus.co.uk
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