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Water spinach stem becomes eco-friendly straw in Bangkok

Public awareness rises in one of the world's largest producers of plastic waste

These straws are 10 times more expensive than plastic ones. They are also edible.

BANGKOK -- Plastic straws, a must accompaniment to bottled drinks sold at convenience stores, are part of everyday life in Thailand. However, a whale that died in June after swallowing 80 plastic bags has raised public awareness of plastic waste and sparked a move away from the material.

One restaurant group here in the capital has introduced an environmentally friendly -- and perhaps healthy -- alternative, Chinese water spinach stems.

Broccoli Revolution, a chain of two vegetarian restaurants, ceased offering plastic straws in May, switching to Chinese water spinach stems. The stems' hollowness is 1 cm to 1.5 cm in diameter. The stem itself is moderately hard; even a creamy smoothie can be slurped up through it.

When the smoothie is finished, the straw can be eaten.

The restaurant procures Chinese water spinach at markets and washes it every morning. A stem straw costs 3 baht (9 cents), more than 10 times the cost of plastic one.

Although cheaper paper straws were also an option, they "will become trash, anyway," said the restaurant's general manager, Krongkan Pienpanich.

The restaurant also sells reusable straws made from bamboo or stainless steel for 25 baht to 60 baht.

Thailand disposes of 2 million tons of plastic a year. The country was the world's sixth largest producer of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean, according to a 2010 study published in the U.S. journal Science.

Thailand's love affair with the plastic straw is believed to have gotten its start at food stalls, where customers might have wanted to avoid touching their lips to the cups provided.

Now the death of the bag-infested whale has ignited an anti-plastic movement, though there are skeptics.

A 30-year-old businessperson believes the avoid-plastic movement is only temporary.

And it does have at least one modern-day hallmark of a fad. Some diners seem to show up at Broccoli Revolution to Instagram themselves drinking through the spinach stems.

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