The Yorkshire mum making silicone straws to help people go greener
Engineer and mother of three Charlotte Walsh is on a mission to improve the world we live in. Catherine Scott reports.
It was while out picnicking with her children near their Grassington home that Charlotte Walsh came up with her business idea.
“I live with my family in a picture-postcard village in the Yorkshire Dales and feel so lucky to live somewhere that other people come on holiday,” says Charlotte, 34.
“Along with the holidaymakers we love to spend sunny days down by the river with our children – picnicking, paddling and barbecuing on long lazy days. It’s beautiful, but sometimes the aftermath isn’t.
“Plastic bottles, coffee cups, sandwich wrappers and plastic straws wash downstream, a reminder of the everyday single-use plastics that we use and discard on a daily basis.
“Seeing the impact these have on our beautiful area got me thinking – how could I use my 15 years of manufacturing experience to make being green that little bit easier?”
Charlotte, who works in medical engineering in Ripon, is passionate about getting more girls and women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.
“I really enjoyed design and technology at school, but my girls’ school didn’t teach it at A-level so I had to go the boys’ school,” says Charlotte.
She was also the only female graduate in her class at University of Hull where she studied product innovation (BSc Hons) and the medical engineering (MSc).
“I was never made to feel any different from everyone else, I was just accepted, but I am passionate about encouraging more girls to take STEM subjects and school and beyond.”
After graduating Charlotte first went into general product design before going into the medical devices industry.
And so when the mum of three came face to face with the problem of single-use plastics she drew on her engineering degree, and 10 years of manufacturing experience to develop her product.
“I really wanted an alternative to plastic straws, even before the Government decided to ban them. My children are young and so I didn’t think the metal straws were appropriate and they just didn’t get on with paper ones and so I came up with a simple mission – to create a convenient alternative to single-use plastic straws.”
And so the engineer in her got to work and she came up with a reusable silicone alternative to plastic.
“Our products are beautifully simple in design and made using the highest quality food-grade silicone here in the UK,” explains Charlotte about what makes her product different to others on the market.
“While some companies have their eco products made in China, we will always manufacture our straws here in the UK. It’s better for the environment and the local economy – ensuring that we promote sustainable living while controlling our ethical impact too.
“By manufacturing reusable silicone straws in the UK we provide a sustainable alternative to the single-use straw. The UK Government has now introduced a plastic straw ban, which is great for the environment, but not great for those who love a straw, and especially not for children who seem to love to nibble the ends off the paper straws.
“Our reusable silicone straws are designed and made in the UK from food-grade silicone which is BPA-free and vegan-friendly as they contain no animal products.”
Charlotte explains that the silicone is much more durable than plastic so her straws can be used again and again. They can be washed in the dishwasher and come with a brush.
“The straws are perfect for all ages as they are bendable and will withstand a little chew. We were determined to make sure that they felt right in the mouth and so a lot of development work went into them,” she adds.
“They can be cut to size, allowing them to work perfectly will all cup sizes. The children call them ‘Mummy’s straws’ and they just love them.”
But it isn’t just children that Charlotte has in her sights.
“I was starting to work with some bars and restaurants but then the pandemic hit and they all closed. But I am once gain looking at that market – the gin market, in particular – with the use of Instagram, Facebook and Tik Tok.”
She’s also looking at the cocktail market.
“There are some beautiful handcrafted cocktails and then someone puts a paper straw in it which disintegrates and tastes horrible.”
Charlottes silicone straws come in a multipack or individually packaged in a travel box. They come in multiple colours and she even supplies her local school which was struggling to find alternatives to plastic straws.
“I want to make it easier for people to live their lives greener. I have to admit that I have really only started to think about trying to live greener in the last five years since having a family,” admits Charlotte, whose children are five, three and one.
“I then started to look at just how much plastic we were using, particularly single-use plastic.”
And it isn’t only straws where Charlotte thinks she can make a difference. She is busy working on other ideas and plans to expand her product range in the near future.
She also has a recycling scheme where customers can send worn out straws back to Charlotte for them to be recycled.