Passion Project - Mum friends bring 'raw straws' to New Zealanders

  • 07/05/2021
  • Sponsored by - Dell

Together two Kiwi friends have combined their enthusiasm and passion, creating a family-friendly solution for the environment. 

"It's just one straw, said eight billion people."

That's the ethos that has carried friends Camilla Weinstein and Charlotte Downes through the long process of starting their own business while juggling full-time jobs and young children - but they say it's all worth it. 

The mums and friends started their business Straw the Line to bring Kiwis the phenomenon of the 'Raw Straw': New Zealand's first 100 percent biodegradable edible rice straw they say is saving the planet "one slurp at a time."

Successfully creating both packaging and platform for a New Zealand market, they're this month's Dell Passion Project recipients. The friends will receive a Dell XPS laptop. Dell and The Project are recognising passionate people who turn their side-hustles into full time gigs, while maintaining a day job.

Camilla says having her sons made her think seriously about the future of the planet they're living on. 

"I have a couple of young boys and I wanted to make a difference for them - even the smallest changes can make a big difference," she told Newshub. 

She said she'd been with her eldest son in cafes and restaurants and seen the paper straws "go mushy" when he was trying to drink from them. 

"I was looking for an alternative -  I'd come across the straws overseas and thought they were great," she explained. 

While many of us have struggled with paper straws degrading in our drinks and mouths at bars and restaurants, the rice-flour structure of the Raw Straw sourced from Vietnam keeps it firm and fresh for at least an hour in a cold drink. 

Appropriately enough given the number one piece of rubbish often found on a beach is a plastic single-use straw, Camilla pitched the idea to her work colleague Charlotte while walking along Takapuna beach, both heavily pregnant and about to go on maternity leave. 

"We were just two mums on maternity leave," reflects Charlotte. "But we wanted to start a business that didn't suck and had a purpose, and changed how New Zealanders viewed those single-use items." 

She says their roles as parents made them realise just how much plastic parents go through when it comes to parties, picnics and playdates. 

"You only need to go to a kids party shop and see plastic cups and plastic plates," she said. "It's just one straw sure - but then you can start to look at other products… it's a no brainer." 

In just the US alone, one estimate suggests 500 million straws are used every single day. One study published earlier this year estimated as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world's beaches.

"If we could revolutionise the reusable straw industry it might lead to starting that conversation about a more sustainable future for our kids," adds Charlotte. 

It was no small commitment. The pair are making the rest of us look bad: They both work full-time jobs and parent young children. It's obviously had an impact - Charlotte says one of her son's first words was "straw", and Camilla's eldest son waxed lyrical about the Raw Straw in front of his kindergarten class during a lesson learning about the ocean.

"Who would have thought two mums with newborns catching up over coffees could turn into starting a business?" laughs Charlotte, adding the first year has seen them "finding our feet and finding our way." 

At the end of the day, says Camilla, it's not just about selling straws. 

"It's evolved to different areas, including education. We really love inspiring young people to step outside their comfort zones to do something different."

The pair have grown their passion by speaking in schools and ocean education youth groups, and say they'd love to keep doing more of that in the future. 

"The magic doesn't happen unless you step outside the comfort zone - where we were at when we started we never expected to start a business, and I never thought I'd be a business owner - it's about that as well."

"The more edible straws being slurped the more New Zealanders get behind our cause," adds Charlotte. "While we've come a long way and we're really proud of our business, we need the support of Kiwis to get behind the cause." 

This article is brought to you by Dell