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StrawFish COO: Upcycling marine shells into biodegradable beverage straws

#StrawFish COO: Upcycling marine shells into biodegradable beverage straws

Three men standing in garden.
The three co-founders at StrawFish (All image credits: StrawFish).

10 Nov 2023 — StrawFish is a Florida, US-based start-up offering biodegradable drinking straws as an alternative to single-use plastic products. The company became a go-to partner for businesses in need of quick lead times and secure supply as disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic intensified. 

We speak to Aaron Kleinert, managing partner and COO, about how the company’s portfolio compares to other market solutions, its biodegradability and its R&D plan for the coming year. 

Can you introduce StrawFish and its mission to us?
Kleinert: StrawFish’s story begins back in 2019 when three friends in South Florida caught a glimpse of the global plastic pollution problem in their local community as beaches and streets were littered with plastic straws, cups and foodservice packaging (among a long list of other products). As that video of the turtle (with the plastic straw in its nose) resurfaced, they knew enough was enough — businesses needed access to single-use plastic alternatives that didn’t break the bank but helped their guests join the sustainable movement without negatively impacting their dining experience.Cocktails on bar table.StrawFish builds partnerships in entertainment, cruise, foodservice and hospitality.

What can you tell us about your product portfolio?
Kleinert: StrawFish didn’t want to disguise a problem as a solution, which seemed to be the case for many options the team evaluated. Learning that less than 15% of composting facilities in the US accept “bioplastics,” our team couldn’t comprehend asking businesses and consumers to carry the responsibility of collecting, cleaning, sorting and sending this waste (on their own dime) to make sure it completes its life-cycle — many households also do not have the ability to spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on a home composting machine. With this, the answer was simple — create solutions that consider how people use and dispose of waste in their everyday lives, how that waste is managed and the environmental conditions in landfills where the majority of this waste ends up. 

The team explored a wide range of technologies and identified where problems could be solved through innovation. This breakthrough was found on the cusp of a decade of R&D, where discarded marine shells polluting the Baja Peninsula, Mexico, could be upcycled, creating a secondary economy for this waste while helping clean coastlines and landfills.

Coming to market with a catalog of drinking straws — cocktail stirrers to specialty items including boba straws and bendy straws — StrawFish quickly became a go-to partner for businesses US-wide in need of quick lead times and secure supply as disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic intensified. StrawFish extended its offering into the cutlery category, providing stock and custom capabilities for businesses to tackle yet another prominent source of plastic pollution. With broad (and untapped) industry applications, StrawFish is excited to further its impact across a wide range of manufacturing processes and finished goods. 

Under what conditions can consumers expect the waste to biodegrade fully?
Kleinert: While landfill conditions vary, consumers can dine responsibly knowing that third-party labs have done testing in accordance with globally recognized standards to fully biodegrade in months, not years, without needing to send the waste to the few industrial composting facilities available. Soda machines and straws in paper packaging.StrawFish entered the market with drinking straws and became a go-to partner for businesses US-wide.

Can you name some companies you are currently working with?
Kleinert: Our mission to build longstanding partnerships in entertainment, cruise, foodservice and hospitality has led us to align with industry leaders including Royal Caribbean, Cava, Clean Juice and The Sphere. This has been possible by working hand-in-hand with the US’ largest distribution networks, including Imperial Dade, Sysco and DMA, all of whom have been passionate about providing education and access to honest, affordable, single-use plastic solutions. Investing in these relationships at the distributor and operator level has been, and will continue to be, key to our collective ability to impact single-use plastic pollution.  

Can you share some financial details on how much the start-up has already raised and is planning to raise next year?
Kleinert: Bootstrapping the company to date, StrawFish is very excited to announce its first round of fundraising, underway in Q4 2023. The team is passionate about aligning with like-minded, strategic partners who are ready to advance the global movement of sustainability through material innovation, education and access to solutions that help navigate greenwashing in a rapidly growing industry. 

What are the next steps at Strawfish in terms of R&D?
Kleinert: StrawFish is expanding in early 2024 with the launch of in-house thermoforming manufacturing, helping businesses streamline sustainable sourcing by extending a full suite of complementary solutions to single-use plastic disposables. StrawFish is excited to announce new developments beyond foodservice that will see a broader impact in the global reduction of single-use plastic waste coming in 2024. With continued investment into R&D, our vision is to develop sustainable partnerships through a full-stack, comprehensive approach that rapidly commercializes strategic sourcing initiatives.

By Natalie Schwertheim

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