Origin Stories: Bamboo Straws

Bamboo straws to replace plastic straws were the single inspiration for the founders of Whataboutgreen to start a business in sustainable products. Therefore we would like to take you on a tour to show you where our bamboo is sourced, how our straws are made, and why bamboo is such a good alternative in our common goal towards a sustainable circular economy.

China’s southeastern Jiangxi Province, with a distinct heritage of the Chinese Revolution, had made tremendous achievements in alleviating poverty in 2017 by lifting nearly 530,000 people out of destitution, with six counties having been removed from the poverty list. The policy set by the local government has confirmed its determination to get rid of poverty under the theme “Accuracy is the core, implementation is the key, sustainability is guarantee (source: Chinadaily).” The increasing interest for bamboo as a natural resource for a wide variety of products has played a great part in the rise of Jiangxi provice.

What makes bamboo sustainable?

Bamboo grows much faster than normal trees, a new shoot of bamboo, ready for cultivation can be grown in a timespan of 2-5 years, which makes it one of the fastest growing plants on the planet. Another big advantage of bamboo is that, with the right care, it will continue growing from the same crop, even when the top is cut off. Cutting a stand of bamboo down to the ground won’t eradicate it – stalks eventually regrow, but from the base rather than from cut canes.

The Process

Our straws are made in the county of Jinxian by local villagers at simple workshops. They generate an extra income that is shared within the local community. The process is relatively simple, bamboo is cut and collected, and brought to the village. The freshly cut and cleaned, then still green branches are bundled together and left to dry in the sun. In about 3-5 weeks, the bamboo will have turned yellow and is ready for production. No chemical processes are used in the production of our bamboo straws.

Once ready the branches are then cut to the right size, polished, and filed out from the inside one by one with the help of some basic tools and machinery such as electric drills and saws.

Truly natural, so truly unique

The fact that our straws are 100% natural, also means that every bamboo straw is unique, not two are the same. They can vary in thickness, could have some natural spots, and can slightly differ in colour, depending on the batch of bamboo, and the season they are produced. Some of them can also be slightly bent, we think that’s quite cool!

The last step of the process is the laser engraving of our straws with any design imaginable (within the limits of the shape of the straw of course), which happens in Hong Kong.

We hope you enjoyed the read, and that it will inspire you make the choice to switch to bamboo products yourself!

Origin Stories: Coconut Bowls

In the last blog story we told you about how to find reliable suppliers of sustainable products, and what questions to ask them. Now you may have the same questions about our products so we will be introducing our products and their origins regularly. Today, we are starting with our products made from Coconut Shells which we import from the south of Vietnam.

Our coconut shells are sourced in a small village called Cái Mơn in the Ben Tre Province of Vietnam. Coconuts have always been a vital resource to this area as they provide coconut water and coconut flesh which are both an important part of the daily diet of the local Vietnamese people.

Until recently after draining the coconut water and cutting out the flesh, the leftover shells were simply considered as waste, and were burned. For anyone who has visited Vietnam, or any other South East Asian country where palm trees grow, the sight of huge piles of burning coconut shells is one they have probably seen at some point. Increasing travel however, including the introduction of smoothie bowls and a growing interest in sustainable & organic alternatives for plastic and other non-sustainable materials has caused a great development which benefits both the environment and the local community.

By cleaning the coconut shells of their ‘hair’, and polishing them, a complete new source of income is generated for the community. Nowadays there are many different products crafted from these shells such simple coconut shell bowls, but also highly decorated bowls, candle holders, wax candles and more. When people get creative, you can even make complete chandeliers from them, and with the right touch, these are incredibly charming.

It speaks for itselft that these products are truly bio-degradable, but even if thrown away these can still serve a purpose. Coconut shells happen to be perfectly suitable as charcoal for a barbecue as well, so if you’re tired of them, keep that in mind. All features combined, coconut shell products are great for both environment and social community, and that makes them to a great addition for our sustainable products collection!

How to source your sustainable products?

One of the main reasons we started our adventure is that we found out that in general, consumers find it hard to determine what defines a sustainable product and what actually makes that product sustainable. The answer to this question starts at source of the supply chain, with the sourcing of the product, and we’re happy to give you a little insight on how we do this!

Before we start working with any supplier, we send them a questionnaire with twenty-two questions in six categories, and we’ve summed those up in an overview for you.

Raw materials, origin, and extraction process

In this category we ask our suppliers where the raw materials originate, whether they are renewable, how they are grown, how are they extracted, and if any harmful materials are used to stimulate this process. It is important that the production take place close to the source, so that local communities can benefit from it directly. We also want to find out whether any waste is created during this process and if so, what is done to minimize this. Our goal is zero waste in the entire supply chain.

Manufacturing process

Sustainable manufacturing is important to us, therefore we want to know what type of resources, like energy and water, are used during the process and whether our suppliers have systems in place to reduce the use of these resources. Also, we need to know whether any hazardous materials are used and if the manufacturing process can result in land, air, or water pollution. Large scale factories powered by diesel engines are obviously a no-go for us. As with the extraction process, we also want to know if any waste is created during the process, and what systems are in place to minimize this.

Packaging & Distribution

Having a history in supply chain ourselves, we know how bad this can be for the environment. Therefore, we want to make sure that the necessary packaging and distribution is done as ecologically friendly as possible. By asking the right questions, we make sure that no plastic is used during the entire process, and no redundant packaging either. We make sure that the product is shipped directly from the area of the source, in bulk, to our outsourced warehouse locations, via the least polluting way of transportation possible.

Working conditions

Sustainability is not only about environment, just as much about social environment. We ask our suppliers for the average wages they pay their workers, and then compare that with the minimum wage in that specific region to determine if these are fair. We also inquire about working hours, what is done to prevent overtime, and if overtime is unavoidable, how it is compensated.

Certification

Where certificates and labels by far do not say everything, they do give a good indication of the actions taken by a supplier to contribute to a sustainable future. We ask our suppliers for which certifications or labels their products or processes qualify for, and to provide proof of these too.

Corporate Responsibility

Last but not least we need to know whether a company is giving back. We only deal with companies that improve the social and economical environment of the community surrounding them, by providing jobs to local workers, or by supporting charities.

So there it is, this is how we start our search for sustainable products. This of course is only the first step, as there are many more factors to consider, such as our own last-mile logistics, resources used to run our business and more. The best practice in  the end, is to personally visit your suppliers to see with your own eyes that they are living up to the standard you expect from them.

Interested to learn more, or perhaps seek advice in what to look for when you just begin sourcing? We are happy to help and would even let you use our question list if you like! Send us an email at sales@whataboutgreen.eu and we will get back to you as soon as we can.