Jacqueline Manherz has worked many restaurant jobs and while cleaning out the slop bucket one day she realized the amount of waste — whether animal product or plastic waste — was overwhelming. “It got to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore and I started asking questions about what could be different, “ says the 34-year-old Toronto native.
That’s when she realized the largest waste culprit in the restaurant was plastic straws. “I thought, okay, straws are a big [issue] right now — I could start with a straw. What if you could have a straw that you could eat after you’re done?”
After much research and discussion with like-minded people on social media, Manherz met John Hale of Hale Food in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Hale became her mentor, helping her bring her company, Planetkitchen, to life. “We found some suppliers overseas and now we have this amazing straw made with recycled apple pulp from juicing,” she explains.
The Superstraw lasts more than an hour in any hot or cold drink “and then when you’re done, it’ll be the perfect consistency.” The food grade, plastic-straw alternative is sweetened with stevia, but also boasts a sweet tartness from the dehydrated apple. And, she stresses, it’s completely biodegradable.
“It’s pretty perfect because, regardless of whether you [eat it or] throw it out, it’s just going to biodegrade because it’s made with food products. And it has a shelf life of more than a year-and-a-half.”
The Superstraw is part of Planetkitchen’s mission to provide a sustainable future by reducing pollution in rivers, streams and oceans. “We intend to do this by helping eliminate the use of single-use plastics and replacing them with biodegradable — and often edible — alternatives.”
The straw is currently available in three sizes — a five-millimetre diameter straw for use in soda or water, a six millimetre, which can be used for smoothies or other drinks and an eight-millimetre diameter straw reserved specifically for bubble tea.
“Restaurants want to carry our product because of the statement value it makes,” says Manherz. “It’s something different. It’s something unique and it really does say ‘were a leader in environmental practices.’ It takes all the risk out of [recycling because], regardless of where you put this straw, it will go away eventually.”
But Planetkitchen is not going away. “I have a lot of dreams for this company and things we’re working towards. We wanted to start with one product, something small, so we chose straws, but I want to have a roster of products that are eco-friendly, biodegradable and I’d love lots of edible products as well. There’s a lot of negative press around straws, unfortunately, but that doesn’t mean they need to be demonized. We can reinvent them and they can be fun.”
For example, she says, she’d like to launch a vanilla-cinnamon straw for iced coffee or a lime straw for sipping Pepsi. “That’s my goal for the straws moving forward. We also want to branch out into cutlery and plastic bags. That’s more of a question mark for me because I don’t think anybody wants to eat their bag.”