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Sustainable STEM: Equo Rice Straws

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

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Welcome to another Ben + STEM’s review of alternative-to-plastic materials and supplies for your STEM or STEAM class. This review is on Equo Rice Straws, but you can check out some of our other reviews like corn-based flatware and birchwood flatware. Interested in trying these eco-friendly products out? Check out a Ben + STEM Sustainable STEM Sample box.

Straws have always been a common material used in my classroom. They have been great for providing supports in engineering activities, moving liquids from point A to point B. If I am implementing a design challenge, they are an easy and cheap material to grab and throw on the table. The issue though is that I tend to go through a lot of them during the school year, which contributes to the approximately 8.3 million tons of plastic straws that currently exist in the environment since single use plastic straws become popularized in the 1950’s.

Do not be blinded by the pretty colors!

Switching to a naturally-safe product is not only beneficial to the environment, but can also be beneficial to the health of your students. A 2019 study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology highlights it is possible

that humans may be ingesting anywhere from 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles/year and inhaling between 74,000 to 121,000 microplastic particles/year. Considering rice does not generate any microplastic particles and 480 million metric tons of rice and rice products are generated each year (second only to corn in the cereal grains), we can lower microplastic exposure to our students!

There are several companies that are in the process of manufacturing rice straws, typically manufactured with rice flour and tapioca cornstarch from Vietnam and Thailand. Today, I am reviewing EQUO straws. According to the company, their rice straws are plastic-free, chemical-free, non-toxic, and BPA-free. The straws are colored with vegetable or fruit juice and edible (though you may want add to hot water to soften first).

Decomposition Timeline and Process: Decomposition time is approximately 3 months and can be composted in a home compost bin or school garden.

Physical Characteristics: They are pretty light and smooth to the touch with a matte-like feel- similar to sea glass! The colors are attractive. There is a very slight inconsistency in the thickness from straw to straw. In most projects, I do not think this would be problematic or even noticeable by students. However, if you are doing a project that requires very strict consistency in dimensions of your straws (e.g., you are using a dial calipers), then you should be aware of the slight differences.

Tensile Strength: One important note is that these rice straws snap very easily compared to some of the other straws we are looking at- they are definitely more brittle. This may be detrimental in certain STEM projects where straws need flexibility. The straws are sturdy enough, but any attempt to bend them and *SNAP*. I broke a couple of them on purpose (and one arrived broken in the box), but they do not appear to leave really sharp edges. They, again, felt like edges in sea glass. When I used a hammer to smash it into tiny pieces, the pieces were much sharper and I would not want young students like PK-2 messing with them.

See that little gray piece go flying? Students HAVE to wear safety glasses with these!

Longevity in Liquid: I soaked the rice straw in different temperatures of water and they aligned pretty closely with Equo’s stated timelines on their website.

Cold Water (67F): Maintained rigidity for approximately 60 minutes before becoming soft like cooked macaroni.

Hot Water (183F): Maintained rigidity for 5 minutes before becoming soft like cooked macaroni.

I left them out on the kitchen table to see if the straws became rigid again once dried. It took several hours (most of the day), but the straws did become rigid once again, but with a slight loss in their shape of a typical straw. I experimented with bending the straws while wet to see if they dried into a curve shape (which would be so cool!), but they did crack in the drying process. Perhaps if I made less of a curve, they would be able to maintain a shape and not crack.

Patiently waiting for soaked rice straws to dry. You know...typical Saturday.

Conclusion: Avoiding single-use items and sticking to more permanent solutions is ideal (i.e., metal or glass straws); however, I prefer to use the rice straws over plastic straws for the environmental benefit. The lack of flexibility may rule out rice straws as a good option for some STEM projects. Student safety should also be carefully considered as these straws can shatter. For some of you who love to challenge students further, the lack of flexibility may be a great constraint that they have to work around, just make sure they are wearing eye safety!

Moving forward if you choose to try out rice straws:

  • Please follow the manufacturer’s instructions to dispose of the materials.

  • Be careful with possible brittleness of the rice-based product, it can be snapped easily if purposefully pressured to bend

  • With the tendency to snap into pieces, I HIGHLY recommend students wear safety goggles if a piece goes flying into their eyes.

  • Young students must be closely supervised so they do not put tiny shattered pieces in their mouths.

  • The Equo rice straws stay rigid in cold water for approximately 1 hour, which isn't as long as other alternative straws, but may not be a concern in some STEM projects.

  • Avoid rice straw brands that use plastic to individually wrap the straws or package materials. Equo did not use plastic in their packaging.

  • Rice straws have an expiration date. Shouldn't be a problem for STEM projects, but if students use them to actually drink something keep an eye on the expiration date on the box.

Keep an eye out for more at Ben + STEM as we continue to explore eco-friendly materials and supplies for your STEM or STEAM classroom! Interested in trying these eco-friendly products out? Check out a Ben + STEM Sustainable STEM Sample box.

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