French entrepreneurs Marion Vigot & Alexis Branlard have developed a sustainable alternative to plastic drinking straws made from the stems of the cereal rye crop. Because what better material to use for straws than – straw!

The duo have been incubating in the Waite ThincLab – part of The University of Adelaide – and have founded Mister RYE, the first South Australian Rye straw product that is organic, biodegradable and sustainable.  The straws are made from the stems of the rye plant, normally a bi-product in traditional cereal rye grain production.

Inspiration sprung from their campervan travels around Australia, visiting beaches that were littered with plastic. The pair knew something needed to be done.

“We found no beach that was not littered with plastic, and decided there had to be a better way — our research led us to find out that rye was the original straw, used hundreds of years before plastic,” Ms Vigot said.

Co-founders of Mister RYE, Alexis and Marion with some of their organic, biodegradable & sustainable rye straws

In 2020, The South Australian government plans to ban single use plastics, being the first Australian state to do so. This means the need for sustainable alternatives is greater now than ever before.

The start-up is one of the first receivers of the Supporting Innovation in South Australia (SISA) program, designed to support new entrepreneurs from overseas in bringing their ideas to production in South Australia, with endorsement from the South Australian Government.

Mister RYE has several partner farms in the Riverland, a family business growing organic rye, with over 20 years of organic certification. They wanted their product to be as clean as possible, so as well as ensuring their product was organically grown, the straws will also be sterilised using natural, rather than chemical processes.

“Nobody wants to drink from a straw that contains chemicals, and today’s consumers like to know where their products come from.”

University students involved

The development and prototyping phase of the project has had some assistance from students at the University of Adelaide. A class of 3rd year students undertaking the elective Food production in a Future Climate led by Dr Beth Loveys, have been involved in a 12 week project growing cereal rye to see which varieties perform better in different conditions.

The students – a mixture from Bachelors of Agricultural Sciences, Viticulture & Oenology, and Applied Biology – grew three industry standard varieties and performed extensive measurements of plant size and structure during the season. The goal is to see which varieties and conditions produce the best stems for straw quality, wider stems are preferred because they produce straws that are broader and more closely resemble typical drinking straws.

University of Adelaide third year students growing Rye in the glasshouse with Dr Beth Loveys (left)

1 million straws campaign

The 25th of October marks the official release of the ReadyFundGo crowdfunding campaign, with an aim to produce the first 1 million straws to go on sale at the start of next year. Supporters can pledge to the campaign and receive an exclusive pre-ordered package of their very own biodegradable drinking straws from 100 to thousands depending on the purpose. There will also be a range of other rewards offered including the chance to seed and grow your own straws, or take a tour of the partnership farms growing organic rye in rural SA.

Following this year’s harvest, left over rye straw will be collected from the farms in rural SA and processed into drinking straws, with the first distributions set for January 2020.

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