Lucia Edna P. de Guzman
Plastics: they’re more than just a sturdy material or a team of high school mean girls, if disposed, haphazardly plastics are the leading cause of environmental pollution. An audit conducted by environmentalist group Greenpeace and the #breakfreefromplasticmovement last September reported that the Philippines is the third worst polluter of the world’s oceans, which Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines Abigail Aguilar partially attributed to the Filipino’s penchant to buy things by sachet.
A trio of millennials want to reduce plastic waste in the Philippines starting with one very basic, everyday tool: straws. Plastic straws are something that we take for granted, an ordinary part of every fastfood soda or milk tea purchase. But there’s a more environmentally friendly substitute to plastic straws—steel straws.
“Sip is an environmental but arguably social enterprise that aims to reduce the use of single use plastic—specifically plastic straws,” explained Rosarina Maria B. Sevilla during an interview with SparkUp last August, with Sip founder Pocholo Miguel M. Espina. Their third partner, Ma. Elena Villanueva was not with them as she had other priorities that day; the three of them are all still 21‑22 year old students at Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU).
Conceptualized in November 2016, the business started in Ateneo Trade, a Facebook page for ADMU students where you can find everything for sale from school supplies to thoroughbred horses (did that sale ever push through). Now they sell their straws online through their website, or offline through bazaars, Roots Katipunan and partner organizations from various schools including the University of the Philippines, Mapua, Bicol University and West Visayas State University. They’ve even landed a consignment deal with Serenitea, where the store will test Sip’s large milk tea straws in fifteen branches in Metro Manila. To-date, Mr. Espina estimates having made approximately ₱500,000 in profit and having spent approximately ₱300,000 on the cost of raw materials.
“We want to promote a zero‑waste lifstyle. If people just use the steel straws, then maybe they will stop using plastic straws altogether, but we also want them to refuse waste in other ways,” Ms. Sevilla said.
“There’s an ambiguous line on where we stand, we’re a business but at the same time there’s a non‑government organization (NGO aspect because of our advocacy,” Mr. Espina added. “We’re profit driven because we need money to move our product, but at the end of the day our goal is to make sure that people understand the benefits of living a zero‑waste lifestyle and make it attainable.”
The steel straws could be an educational tool, Mr. Espina explained, who went from wanting to make a quick buck by selling a few straws on Ateneo Trade to a full‑blown environmentalist on his own right, capable of spitting facts and figures about the environment and what we can do to save the earth at the drop of a hat. “Each set of straws comes with a booklet that explains not only how you can use the straw and clean it, but also how you can prevent waste, so hopefully you don’t stop at just using steel straws.” Sip sells average sized steel straws and milk tea sized steel straws with their respective cleaning brush, in sets that range from ₱120 to ₱350.
Still, Sip’s advocacy doesn’t end in just reaching out to the individual consumer. “We’re also expanding through business to business connections and corporate giveaways,” Mr. Espina said. “If we go to the individual buyer, yes, we can make a difference. But if we go to a store then we will be able to reach more people. Restaurants can stop using plastic straws, and if they don’t like our product then they could always resell it.” How to keep the straws clean seems to be the primary concern of these resturants, Mr. Espina noted, adding that that’s why the straws come with a brush. They can easily be cleaned with the brush and some dishwashing liquid.
And maybe, as Sip gains more traction and more people stop exchange plastic straws for their reusable steel counterpart, it will expand to selling more products. Mr. Espinosa has big dreams for his business, which he hopes will continue to be both profitable and helpful to the environment. “My vision is, five years down the line, is that we’ll have physical stores: a one‑stop shop for all your zero‑waste needs. We will educate people on how to reduce their waste footprint, because some people want to live a zero‑waste lifestyle don’t know how to start.”
“But beyond that we’re going to reach out to more restaurants to use our product, and make the product available both through e‑commerce and through physical stores.”