April 2021

Charlotte Walsh: Working towards a plastic free future

Charlotte Walsh launched The Silicone Straw Company in 2019

Charlotte Walsh (MRes Chemistry 2013) is using her experiences in manufacturing and engineering to help create a greener future.

Since launching The Silicone Straw Company in 2019, engineer Charlotte estimates that she has saved close to 1 million straws from ending up in landfill. It is a journey that began after she witnessed the damage caused by disposable rubbish in the Yorkshire Dales.

“I live in the Dales, and the amount of rubbish left behind following holiday season was disheartening,” Charlotte explains. “I decided to do something about it.”

From enterprising alumni like Charlotte, to the University plastic-free pledge, to global research projects, the Leeds community is doing its part to turn the tide on plastic.

Be it climate action, sustainability or something else, make sure to share with us too: how is your work contributing to a greener future?

Utilising expertise

During her career, Charlotte has worked for a number of international medical device companies. After seeing the waste left behind by visitors on sunny summer days in her home village, Grassington, Charlotte recognised the need to act, and she knew she had the skillset to do so.

She focussed on creating a convenient alternative to single-use plastic straws. “Silicone straws proved the best option. They are dishwasher safe, good for hot and cold drinks, vegan and child friendly, and they can be cut to any size.”

Silicone straws provide a green alternative to plastic

Charlotte developed a manufacturing process which meant the straws could be made cost effectively in the UK. “It’s important to me to manufacture here. It makes it easier to ensure product quality, and it also supports the UK manufacturing industry. But crucially, it just didn’t make sense for people to buy something to help protect the planet, only for it to be made and imported half way across the world.”

A greener future

Charlotte was inspired to act after seeing the waste left behind in her home village, Grassington

As with many businesses, the Covid-19 pandemic presented challenges for the fledgling Silicone Straw Company. With high street shops closed, Charlotte adjusted by selling directly to online customers and online stores during lockdown. Reassuringly, demand remained high.

“I’m proud to provide people with an affordable luxury in difficult times, whilst helping to make the world a greener place,” Charlotte says.

The solution Charlotte created has proven timely. The UK government has in place a 25-year strategy to reduce the amount of avoidable plastic waste by 2042, and a plastic straw ban came into effect in October 2020.

The UK is also set to host the 2021 UN climate change conference, COP26, and Leeds continues to contribute to important discussions and negotiations taking place in the run up to the summit in Glasgow. It is fitting that alumni like Charlotte continue to play their part, too.

Alumni can visit The Silicone Straw Company to find out more.

Share with us ahead of COP26: how is your work contributing to a greener future?