Assistant News & Features Editor
Reducing plastic has been a huge initiative for a lot of people in Lee County, especially those on the coast.
The city of Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island have both gone as far as banning the distribution of plastic straws.
Eco-pasta, straws made from pasta, was created by Sammy Ramirez as an innovative way to reduce the plastic use. Ramirez has been trying to sell his straws to restaurants in Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach to offer what he says is a biodegradable, cheaper, and longer lasting option.
“Sanibel and the coast of Fort Myers are kind of my niche, because they are so involved with not having plastic,” Ramirez said. Ramirez came up with the idea after being frustrated with trying to drink out of a paper straw.
“I hate paper straws, but I also hate plastic,” Ramirez said. “I thought there has to be a different way.”
He said he knew everyone’s next resort was the metal straw, but they are expensive and easily lost. So, he did research and came up with the idea of commercializing pasta straws: a tasteless, edible and biodegradable option.
“I didn’t invent the pasta straw, but I feel like I’m the first to commercialize it,” Ramirez said. “It’s eco-friendly and it’s a new way of looking at things.”
Eco-pasta has only been in business for two months, but Ramirez has been doing research since February.
“The hard part was staying up late at night and doing research on wholesale factories and custom buyers in Italy,” Ramirez said. “It took me weeks and weeks of just going at it to try to find connections to factories in Italy.”
Once he got the connections he needed, he said he custom ordered the pasta straws from Italy and had them shipped to California where there were re-dried with water leaves. He then got an investor and soon had the company running.
As of just two weeks ago, Eco-pasta became profitable. Ramirez plans to continue to try to spread the use of his straws commercially.
“The future is to dominate this market with these straws,” Ramirez said. “Every restaurant is doing it, even inland restaurants like Mellow Mushroom and the Marriot are going to paper straws. So, the niche is there, the market is there, I’m just trying to commercialize it.”
As of right now, you can find these pasta straws at Joey’s Custard in Sanibel. This local restaurant adopted the use of pasta straws back in July, also known as Plastic Free July, a global movement to reduce plastic pollution.
Joey Almeida, owner of Joey’s Custard, told Fox4 it’s his mission to reduce plastic and it helps that the pasta straws are about half the price of paper straws.
The Lana Kai in Fort Myers Beach have pasta straws pending. Ramirez said they are testing the pasta straws for just frozen drinks now, because a lot of their sales come from frozen drinks alone.
Not only are pasta straws biodegradable, edible and eco-friendly, but Ramirez also says they do not break down (in cold drinks) before 7 hours.
“I’m no scientist or anything, but I’ve done testing,” Ramirez said. “The average paper straw will last 4 ½ minutes before it breaks down completely. Pasta straws will break down after 7 hours.”
He also says and demonstrated that the paper straw can fit inside of the pasta straw.
“The pasta straws have a bigger hole than the paper straws, so essentially it’s what I like to call more gulps per sip,” Ramirez said.
More gulps per sip is a big marketing tool for Ramirez as he says people will finish their drinks faster than with the paper straw, creating more revenue for businesses and more enjoyable drinks for customers.
Ramirez is working mostly with Sanibel Island now due to prior experience with businesses there, but he is trying to spread to other areas including inland restaurants.
One of his first internships was on Sanibel Island at a hotel. One of his jobs was to pick up shells and he said he hated it because they would stink. So, he developed an eco-friendly shell bag that was sand-less and smell-proof. He called it Red Shelling.
This was Ramirez’s first business experience and it lasted for about two years.
“I made a lot of different connections with retailers and restaurants from this already that I knew who to talk to when Eco-Pasta came along,” Ramirez said.
With the ban of plastic straws in Sanibel and now residents wanting a ban on plastic bags, businesses are forced to turn to a plastic-free option.
Businesses there face fines for the sale or distribution of plastic straws, so Ramirez uses this to pitch his pasta straw to restaurants in these areas.
He said a lot of these businesses are interested in purchasing pasta straws, but because paper straws are expensive and they had to buy them in bulk, eateries want to get rid of those before purchasing the pasta straws.
Although this could take a few months, Ramirez is confident these businesses will pursue the pasta straws in the future.
“We’re in a huge testing phase right now, but we’re two months in, we came right at dead season and we’re still doing pretty decent,” Ramirez said.