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Fukui company develops waterproof, eco-friendly drinking straws from barley stems

The finished products are shown at Fukui Barley Club, in Fukui, Fukui Prefecture, on May 28, 2019. (Mainichi/Hisashi Tsukamoto)

FUKUI -- The Fukui Barley Club, a food processing business here, will begin selling eco-friendly straws made from the stems of six-row barley plants in July 2019, amid increasing concern for alternatives to non-biodegradable plastics contributing to marine pollution.

Fukui Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan, was the country's number one producer of six-row barley in 2017, with some 14,200 metric tons of the crop harvested. Fukui Barley Club makes and sells its own barley tea and snacks. Since around when the company was first starting out in 2010, its director Hiromi Shigehisa used to hand make straws from the stems, which were going to be thrown away, and give them as an extra memento to customers.

As the proliferation of plastic waste in the oceans became an international problem, and straws made from materials like wood or paper started entering the market, customers asked her why she didn't consider selling the straws. It was then that she resolved to turn them into a product in their own right.

The straws measure about 20 centimeters long and have a diameter of 3 to 6 millimeters. The barley material is harvested and sundried, after which the pieces are individually cut with scissors to avoid damaging the edges. Following further sterilization and drying, the process is complete, taking around three weeks to a month.

Employees at the Fukui Barley Club are seen cutting the straws one by one from barley stems in Fukui, Fukui Prefecture, on May 28, 2019. (Mainichi/Hisashi Tsukamoto)

A pack of 10 aimed for family use costs 324 yen, whereas a set of 250 for businesses comes to around 8,000 yen. Although the price is considerably higher than cheap plastic straws retailing for as little as 1 yen per straw, when Fukui Barley Club opened up for orders in May they had enquiries from hotels and restaurants. The firm estimates it will produce over 50,000 straws in 2019.

The barley straw's strengths lie in its water resistance and natural feel. Shigehisa says "I hope the product, which is biodegradable and good for the environment, will help people to reconsider their reliance on convenient plastic versions."

For queries, contact Fukui Barley Club on 0776-97-6369 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Hisashi Tsukamoto, Fukui Bureau)

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