MAKERS OF MUMBAI: RHEA CHHABRIA OF SUCKIN STRAWS
Rhea Chhabria always had the urge to do more for the environment and animals. When her pleas with restaurant owners to quit single-use straws fell on deaf ears, she co-founded SuckIN – reusable and eco-friendly bamboo and metal straws, stirrers, and cleaners.
WORDS BY SUDESHNA CHATTERJEE
The City Story: Why did you start SuckIN Eco Straws?
Rhea Chhabria: In November 2017, I was having brunch at Bastian when I met Chef Kelvin Cheung and applauded him for using paper straws. But he was disillusioned and not at all satisfied and asked me to help him find something reusable. I had made several repetitive attempts to convince other restaurant owners to quit single-use straws but failed. Therefore, I decided to take matters into my own hands and contacted my partner, Suraj Nair, to make reusable straws. We came up with the idea of metal and bamboo straws, and that gave birth to SuckIN in January 2018.
TCS: Why opt for bamboo and stainless steel as base materials?
RC: Stainless steel is a light, durable, rust-proof, flavour-free material that is available in food grade and medical grade quality; it doesn’t react with acids that might be present in foods and lasts a lifetime, just like your cutlery.
Bamboo, on the other hand, is a natural product that is fast growing, native to India, and inherently hollow, making it the perfect straw to be used up to 20 times and then put into your wet waste to naturally degrade.
TCS: How safe and hygienic are these products since they can be reused?
RC: Cleaning properly is the key factor for their safe usage. All the inner surfaces of SuckIN straws are smoothened, preventing any residual food particles, and we provide cleaning brushes that can clean the innards of the straws. Alternatively, our straws are also dishwasher safe, making the process of cleaning extremely simple and easy, whether at home or in a restaurant. We use only the best quality of steel which is rust proof, lead-free, BPA-free, and flavour-free. Using a SuckIN straw is as safe as using a spoon/fork. Bamboo is a natural product, so it doesn’t contain any chemicals. It is equally easy to clean, but being a natural product it catches on to strong natural and artificial colouring present in foods. It also could get damaged if someone has a habit of chewing on straws. We would recommend keeping it in a dry place to dehydrate it thoroughly before storing, to avoid any growth of fungus.
TCS: It is said that although a stainless steel object can be recycled, it does not degrade. By that logic, how sustainable it is?
RC: The whole concept of stainless steel straws is that they become like your cutlery, as they last a lifetime. Stainless steel can be recycled multiple times. When need be, the steel can be melted into liquid form and converted into a new object, thus never ending up in a landfill. Our products follow the rule of the 3 Rs – reduce, reuse, and recycle, making them eco-friendly.
TCS: What are the challenges you faced setting this up, and how did you cope?
RC: Hailing from a design background, business development and management is absolutely new for me, but my partner, Suraj, has guided me through the journey. The major issues we face as a startup are addressing people’s concerns over the safety issues of reusable straws. Another pointer that our clients in the hospitality business are irritated about is of theft of straws by their customers. To combat this, we started engraving the logo of each restaurant on the straw to make their customers aware that the straw belongs to the restaurant.
TCS: What keeps you going?
RC: Preserving our planet is the need of the hour. The inherent need to see change is what keeps me going. I have grown up near Juhu beach that had clean, light sand, seashells, fish, and sea birds and have seen it transform over the years into a plastic dump with carcasses of dolphins, turtles, and whales washing up ever so often. As a scuba diver and an avid traveller, I have seen swathes of plastic floating in the sea and have always wanted to do something about it. So, having a green alternative to straws and stirrers help us prevent single-use plastic landing up in the oceans, thereby protecting marine life.
TCS: How green conscious is your lifestyle?
RC: We are all aware about how consumption of meat, seafood, dairy products, and leather goods damages our planet. I gave up non-vegetarian food and leather goods in February 2016. I still do eat fish when I am travelling internationally for lack of vegetarian options. I have reduced dependency upon single-use plastic at home and in the office. Using a bamboo toothbrush, biodegradable sanitary napkins and soap bars, carrying my own reusable cutlery and water bottles, etc. are some options I religiously adhere to. In fact, anybody with a green responsibility can adopt such a lifestyle.
TCS: What are SuckIN’s future plans?
RC: We aim to create a variety of products to replace single-use plastic items. Our goal currently is to replace every plastic straw in India with reusable and eco-friendly alternatives. We can also style these options as corporate gifts. We are also working on cheaper options that we can sell to coconut vendors, udipi restaurants, and fast food chains. We are positive that we will be able to achieve all these in the next five years.
Photographs courtesy SuckIN Straws