We’ve been thrilled to see so many people jumping on board with limiting their use of single-use plastic lately and we are too!

This year we’ve teamed up with a small social enterprise in northern Thailand to use their handmade, sustainable bamboo straws as fun freebies at college study abroad fairs around the U.S. instead of the old-school style of branded – often plastic – SWAG. (Come check out the TEAN table at your school’s next study abroad fair!).

While at first the humble straws may seem simple, they have a strong impact for both the earth and people.

Choosing Earth

One of TEAN’s core values is ‘Choose Earth’, which we take as a daily reminder to try and live as sustainably as possible. Often, this manifests as continually looking at our daily practices and habits to see how we can do better (it’s a process!) but we also keep this guiding principle in mind for how we create our study abroad programs in Asia Pacific. Ultimately we believe that informed local action and individual choices can have a global impact…and that’s especially true with these straws!

Using Sustainable Bamboo Straws

Our new eco-friendly, organic bamboo straws are handmade by Burmese refugees as part of a social enterprise owned by a female refugee based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

TEAN's bamboo straws
TEAN’s bamboo straws are made by Burmese refugees in northern Thailand

The straws can be used in place of disposable plastic straws and are incredibly sustainable and eco-friendly as the small stalks of bamboo are wild and re-grow quickly. Once they’re cut, the bamboo straws are boiled, cured and polished to ensure they are sanitary.

After using them, you can easily clean them with regular dish soap and air dry to reuse again and again and again! (An occasional boil or soak in white vinegar is great for added cleanliness.)

The bamboo straws are sustainable in every sense of the word – from the material to the manufacturing to the people who make them. The woman who owns the business hires people from her village to help make the straws. They receive a fair wage, good working hours and no longer have to do hard manual labor.

100% of the straw sales then go back into supporting the community, particularly the elder members and young kids.

Supporting Boo Boo Bamboo Straws & Free Bird Cafe in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The social enterprise, Boo Boo Bamboo Straw, is supported by a non-profit (Thai Freedom House) and ‘cafe with a cause’ (Free Bird Cafe) based in Chiang Mai that works with Burmese refugees and other minority groups living in Thailand.

Making bamboo straws
Photo courtesy of Boo Boo Bamboo Straw

As part of the new Hospitality Training Program at Free Bird Cafe, they train adults on how to start their own small business. The first business they saw to launch was Boo Boo Bamboo Straw, ran by the cafe’s chef, Jing.

A Burmese refugee, Jing’s family was forced across the border from Myanmar to Thailand 20 years ago in a bloody conflict. They’ve continued to live in Thailand where they can actually see their old village which is now occupied by the Burmese military. With no chance to return home, they have carved out a life for themselves in the northern Thai mountains as farmers but few own any land or have personal rights in Thailand so their future is always uncertain.

Boo Boo Bamboo Straw helps provide an additional income stream for Jing, her young family and other members of the community. By choosing to purchase and use the straws, TEAN is supporting a small, locally-owned social enterprise in an area where we offer programs that has effects on both its larger community and the environment – it’s a win-win!

Learn more about our Choose Earth initiative and how we encourage environmental and social responsibility into our study abroad programs here.  (And if you’re interested in studying abroad in Thailand, head here!)