From Zomato to the US: this startup is battling to put an end to single-use plastic with bamboo straws
For Vaibhav Anant, an animal lover, to see a tortoise struggling in pain and bleeding with straws stuck in its nostril was a difficult sight to witness. He couldn’t imagine the pain the tortoise was going through, which got him to read reports.
Plastic waste accumulation in lakes, oceans, and beaches has become a global crisis. We can see it piling up more rapidly than ever before.
Vaibhav realised that every minute, over eight tonnes of plastic gets dumped into the oceans or landfills, and plastic straws contribute to over 30 percent of that waste. Today, single-use plastic straws form the biggest threat to marine creatures.
“We knew there had to be an alternative material that can be used to make straws, which doesn’t impact the environment. After researching for over a year and a half, we realised bamboo to be the most sustainable and viable option. Also, bamboo as a raw material is available in abundance in India,” he says.
This led him to start Bambrew in October 2018. The Bengaluru-based startup makes bamboo straws and cutlery, and is now getting into making disposable bamboo food packaging.
Today, the team is exporting these straws to six countries including the US, UK, Canada, France, etc.
Once Vaibhav got the idea, he decided to head to the Northeast where bamboo is available in abundance. Here, he discovered there are about 137 bamboo species, and not all of them could be used to make straws. And after doing some research, he realised only three or four of those varieties could be used.
For three months, he met with different tribes in Northeast India and decided it would be best to work with them.
“These tribes have their own bamboo plantation, and it is a source of income for them. However, the wicker baskets and other products have seasonal value, and they earn only between Rs 1,000 - Rs 1,500 per month. It was then we decided to work with the tribals,” says Vaibhav.
Founders of Bambrew - Vaibhav and Akash
He says the next step was to get them to make the straws. “We assured them we would buy every straw and give them a commission,” adds Vaibhav.
Bambrew thus created self-help groups of 20 to 25 people that were trained to use the machinery. Vaibhav says a basic drill machine can be repurposed as a drilling brush for cleaning the insides of the straw.
Currently, there is no commercial manufacturing unit, and they are manufactured by small groups.
“For each straw, they earn Rs 1.75 to Rs 2.50, and we sell each piece for Rs 3.50,” says Vaibhav. The team sources the machinery from different small vendors, and these are later customised to make the straws. Now, the tribals are earning nearly Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per month.
Building the business
Once Vaibhav had the basics going to manufacture the straws, he roped in his childhood friends - Akash Kansal and Swapnil Abhishek as co-founders. Swapnil is no longer associated with Bambrew. Akash was working at Tavant Technologies and Swapnil was working with iMerit as Tech Lead analyst.
However, Bambrew is not Vaibhav’s first company. During his first stint as an entrepreneur, he started a company called Restroshop technologies Pvt ltd, which was later acqui-hired by Green Agtech.
Since Vaibhav had a good understanding of the vendors and the manufacturing process, thanks to his previous company, setting up a manufacturing unit for Bambrew was not a challenge.
He then decided to work with B2B and B2B2C clients. He reached out to his first clients - Shake it Off and A Whole Lot of Love.
“Currently we are supplying to Zomato, The Lalit Hotels, Byg Brewsky, Big Pitcher, Bangalore Brew Works, and Arbor Brewing Company,” says Vaibhav. The clients buy these straws once in three months, with an average basket size of 5,000 straws.
“Close to 30 percent of our revenue comes from exports, and we are looking to strengthen our presence across the globe,” he adds. The team claims to have made a revenue of Rs 10 lakh in the past eight months.
The Co-founder recalls, “A major challenge we faced was the availability of a special kind of bamboo. These are available only in Northeast India. Hence, we moved to fibres."
What do clients say?
The team has now built a patent-pending technology for straws made out of bamboo fibres and bamboo waste. These are again natural, biodegradable, and disposable one-time use straws, unlike Bambrew’s previous variety.
Today, there is a growing need for biodegradable packaging and products, with companies like Truegreen, Earthware Products, Ecoware, and Earthsoul to name a few.
According to a Coherent Marketing Insights report, the global biodegradable packaging market, which was valued at $3.92 billion last year, will touch $21 billion by 2025.
Speaking of why they decided to choose Bambrew, Manish Bansal, AVP Growth, Zomato, says,
“Considering the huge issue of plastic waste in India, we had been looking for other packaging solutions. The Bamboo-based products are a good alternative. We distributed the bamboo straws in our office cafeteria and got positive responses about the quality and suitability of the product. We would love to continue to work with them going forward, and hopefully explore other bamboo packaging solutions that they could offer.”
Recently, Bambrew received its first funding from an HNI based in London. The company will be using the capital to strengthen the team and help with its supplier network.
“We currently have more than 200 Bamboo artisans working with us, and we are looking to raise this number. We have more than a million bamboo artisans in suburbs who are still underpaid and undervalued, and this fund will help us leverage this opportunity of bringing more work to over 1,000 artisans,” says Vaibhav.
“We are now building disposable bamboo food delivery containers, for which we are already in talks with the top online food delivery startups in India. We also are in touch with one of the largest coffee chains,” he adds.