31 May 2021
Kilkis, Greece
Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Waste Management, Sustainable Food and Agriculture

In April 2019, Greece’s online community suddenly moved to a curious topic: the humble drinking straw. On Facebook, a group of young Greek entrepreneurs launched Staramaki, a social enterprise that produces eco-friendly straws from leftover wheat stalks. Within days, as many as 2.7 million Facebook users had engaged with Staramaki’s online content. “People’s willingness to share our video demonstrated that the project could be widely accepted,” said Stefanos Kamperis, Staramaki’s manager.

Staramaki’s impressive popularity likely comes back to its foundational story, which incorporates both environmental and social objectives. Staramaki straws support the circular economy by capturing value from agricultural waste and providing an alternative to single-use plastic straws, while also tackling high unemployment rates in the rural Kilkis area. Now, with the EU on the verge of banning single-use plastic straws, Staramaki looks set to make a huge impact.

The Staramaki project was born out of its surroundings: the Kilkis and Doirani communities, which are located near Greece’s borders with North Macedonia and Bulgaria. Staramaki team members, including Kamperis, had previously worked with UNHCR projects aimed at providing safe housing to vulnerable groups in northern Greece, including Syrian refugees.

Staramaki felt like a natural extension of giving struggling community members a place to live. “Now we wanted to support income- and skills-generating activities,” recalled Kamperis.

Since 2019, the team has established Staramaki as a social, for-profit cooperative enterprise, which employs both locals and refugees in the area. Workers receive decent jobs and wages — no small offering in a region where unemployment rates approach 42 percent. All Staramaki’s profits are ultimately fed back into social housing projects that support vulnerable populations in the area.

Staramaki’s business model extracts value from wheat stalks, which are left over from local agricultural activities. The straws are fully biodegradable and, as a bonus, do not become soggy during use. Crucially, Staramaki makes the stalk-based straws without relying on high energy consumption or added chemicals.

This eco-friendly production process sets Staramaki straws apart from not just plastic straws, but also popular alternatives. Kamperis points out that making paper straws, for instance, still relies on deforestation and significant amounts of energy. Similar criticisms apply to PLA straws which, although ostensibly biodegradable, are created through heavy processing techniques.

The Staramaki project has gathered momentum quickly — and not just on Facebook. In its second year of operation, Staramaki has received grants and loans from various foundations, while also winning the Venture Impact Award for Greek startups. Global brands like L’Oreal have already collaborated with Staramaki; now Nestle has announced that it too will join forces, further expanding Staramaki’s reach.

Happily, the buzz around Staramaki has translated into sales. Already, tthe social enterprise has sold 300,000 units of straws in retail and wholesale markets.

Challenges remain ahead for Staramaki. Kamperis laments the weak support structures in place for Greek social enterprises, which provide obstacles to growth. “The state of the social economy is at an infantile level,” said Kamperis. “The right support structures and tools do not exist in Greece.”

Staramaki will also need to grow in the face of stiff competition, as other companies vie for dominance in the alternative straw market. Already, Kamperis indicates that Staramaki must keep prices down to match formidable Asian competitors. This race will only intensify as more regions, like the EU, ban single-use plastic straws.

Yet it is hard to resist the multi-faceted mission of Staramaki, which protects the environment and provides jobs for the needy — all on the back of a drinking straw.


Learn more about Staramaki through the website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Photos courtesy of Staramaki

David Wood is a freelance writer and researcher based in Beirut. He previously worked in Cairo.David Wood
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Staramaki Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Waste Management