Chelsea Briganti, who was born and raised in Hawaii, has always loved the ocean — but not the volume of plastic that washes up on the once-pristine shoreline. “By 2050, there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean by volume,” she said.
While some innovators focus on removing the debris that’s already polluting our water and land, Briganti is taking a different tack: rethinking the wasteful nature of consumer goods.
“If we only plan to use something once, why do we build it to last forever?” Briganti asked. Her company, LOLIWARE, is doing just the opposite: designing single-use plastics to disappear.
She’s starting small — with edible straws. And while straws might seem too trivial to matter, the environmental impact could be colossal.
By some estimates, as many as 500 million plastic straws are briefly used — and then discarded — each day in the U.S. alone. They break down into tiny “microplastics” — finer even than powdered sugar — that find their way not only into marine life, but also sea salt and even tap water.
Briganti first became interested in the waste-free movement in 2010 while studying industrial design at Parsons School of Design. Together with classmate Leigh Ann Baker, she created an edible cup from gelatin for a food competition.
The duo kept experimenting with other materials, eventually landing on a tastier formula made from seaweed and organic sweeteners. (The idea ended up on one of the most-watched episodes of “Shark Tank.”) But in order to make a bigger impact, Briganti and Baker decided to think smaller — by creating edible straws.
Although the LOLIstraw feels like plastic, it is actually seaweed-based. Available in flavors like rose, mango or vanilla, it can be eaten after use. Or, if thrown away, it breaks down in 60 days.
Briganti understands that building a more sustainable future requires system-wide innovations. And while behavioral changes like the widespread adoption of composting are crucial, so is adapting to sustainable products — like the LOLIstraw.
For the record, Briganti said she has nothing against straws.
“My problem is with unsustainable goods which aren’t fit for a purpose,” she clarified. “We want people to enjoy being sustainable and not think of it as a trade-off to the things they know and love. LOLIstraws are a healthy example of how we can transition to products that are simply better for us and the planet.”
This winter, LOLIWARE’s first orders will ship to early adopters like Marriott and Pernod Ricard, as well as eco-conscious individuals who supported the company during online campaigns. Next up are more “biodigr(edible)” products intended to replace other single-use items like utensils and cup lids.
What’s LOLIWARE’s biggest challenge? “Moving fast enough to address a problem that’s at such massive scale,” said Briganti. “We’ve developed a solution. Now it’s just a race against the clock to replace the toxic plastic straws polluting our environment.”
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Article produced in partnership with Mirai, Toyota’s very own Vehicle of Change. The power to change the world belongs to everyone who dreams about what’s next. NationSwell and Toyota teamed up to find 10 environmental entrepreneurs who are building solutions today that will change the world tomorrow.