This 26-year-old Mumbai Girl Is Making Plastic Straws History

Rhea Chhabria is converting restaurants across the country to sustainable straws

Henna Achhpal

Formerly a footwear designer, volunteering for clean up drives at Juhu Beach for almost a year turned Rhea Chhabria into an environmentalist. One of the common sights that Chhabria noticed amidst the coastal debris was the plastic straw. During her work with the local corporator on encouraging a plastic-free lifestyle, the Mumbai resident was often posed the question: if not plastic straws, then what?

On recognising the potential for reusable straws, the 26-year-old launched a partnership with industrialist Suraj Nair, and their joint venture, SuckIN, was born in January 2018. With Nair bringing in knowledge of the steel and metal industry, the duo has made available sustainable and reusable straw alternatives -- rendering the plastic straw redundant.

The company settled on bamboo and stainless steel varieties after testing several materials. “We found many alternative products like bamboo, steel, copper, glass, silicone, paper, biodegradable plastics and a variety of edible straws,” says Chhabria. “We chose to go with bamboo and steel as we found them to be the most reusable, commercially viable and long-lasting. Glass however shatterproof poses a threat of breaking. Copper, on the other hand, oxidises on exposure to the humidity so it’s difficult to maintain,” she explains.

From idea to execution, the first batch of Chhabria’s sustainable straws went through three months of ideating, R&D, prototyping and testing. Chef Kelvin Cheung of Aallia Hospitality was SuckIN’s first patron, giving the sustainable straws a test drive at his restaurant One Street Over in Bandra, Mumbai. “End users were sceptical at first,” confesses Chhabria. “The concerns were mostly about hygiene but slowly people started opening up to the idea of reusable straws just like reusable cutlery.”

Now, almost half-a-year old, SuckIN has sold sustainable straws to over 2,000 individuals and 25 restaurants across India. However, changing mindsets has remained the consistent challenge, notes Chhabria. “People are too used to disposable plastic straws. They are also unaware of the negative implications of single-use plastic,” she says. “It is changing slowly. Bans levied by various governments are shedding light on this topic and bringing about the much-needed awareness.”

Individuals may have been slow to embrace the alternative but commercial establishments were relatively more receptive. “Most establishments were aware but didn’t have access to any alternatives so they were excited to know about SuckIN,” says Chabbria. “We would just walk into a restaurant and ask to speak with the manager or owner. We showed them the samples and let them use the straws for a bit. Once they were convinced, soon they were coming back to us with repeat orders,” she recollects.

With clients like Hakkasan and The Table already in the company’s kitty, Chhabria is now focusing on crafting cheaper prototypes with the aim to take sustainable straws to Udipi restaurants and tender coconut vendors. “We are testing out different materials to find the ideal balance between sustainability and price,” she says. The mission on SuckIN’s website states: “We aim to replace every plastic straw with an eco-friendly one so as to have a cleaner and greener planet.”

Now that's what an #UnPlastic warrior sounds like!


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