Though having a stable job, his concern about the habitat prompted Nguyen Huu Dai (born in 1978) in Khue Bich hamlet, Thuong Quan commune, Kinh Mon provincial town, Hai Duong province, to quit the job to pursue his passion.
Dai monthly exports 50 tons of straws made from rice
Now, his household products like straws, spoons, forks, bowls, etc. made from rice are known worldwide.
Inspiration from sea turtle
Before having a liking for the production of utensils from rice, Dai worked for an American enterprise as an engineer. However, he was not really satisfied with this job since he realized that he preferred exploring things and taking risks to sitting in one place.
In mid-2019, Dai decided to switch to business. Thanks to relations, he received orders to make face masks for export. However, only watching a program about the animal world on TV once by chance, he changed his mind.
"That day, I watched the news about scientists rescuing a sea turtle from a plastic straw which was sticking deep in its nose. I saw the turtle writhe with agony, and something unexpectedly arose in my mind," Dai recalled.
Too obsessive about the image of the sea turtle and the plastic straw, Dai could not concentrate on his new job. After consideration, he proactively canceled face mask production contracts and spent time researching on straws.
Plastic straws are very harmful, so Dai intended to replace them with new materials. Through study, he chose rice for production with a simple thought that edible things are safe. However, he could not foresee the difficulties he would encounter.
For lack of a complete production line, Dai bought and made more machines at the same time. The machinery cost him more than VND700 million turned into scrap, but he was not discouraged at all.
After having had satisfactory equipment, he faced the barrier of having a formula to manufacture products highly durable in different environmental conditions.
After more than one month, he found a reasonable rice flour – water mixing ratio and made rice straws that could be used in water for about two hours.
To make straws more eye-catching, he colored them with natural ingredients like activated carbon, red beets, turmeric, and blue pea flowers.
Right from the beginning, Dai intended to export his products; thus, he was interested in necessary legal procedures.
He established EcoStraws Vietnam JSC. and registered for an international ISO certificate.
In December 2019, he successfully exported the first three tons of rice straws to Canada and received good feedback from partners.
From a workshop only more than 200 m2 in area, he built a 3,500 m2 factory and sought opportunities in other markets such as the US, Germany, etc.
Grasping the green consumption trend of advanced countries in the world, not only rice straws, he also produced other items like knives, forks, spoons, etc. from rice to replace disposable plastic utensils. He is the first person to come up with this idea and is expecting an international patent.
Despite only one year of establishment, Dai's company has been operating stably. Each month, he exports 50 tons of rice straws and 50 tons of rice knives, forks, and spoons to the US, Canada, and the EU with prices ranging from VND75,000 to VND85,000 per kilogram.
He is establishing links to take products to the Middle East. In addition, he has also actively introduced products on international e-commerce sites and received many positive comments.
Despite the success, Dai is not satisfied because the rice-made items have conquered international customers but are still neglected by domestic consumers.
"If having accepted face mask orders in the past, I could lead a leisurely life now. However, I would rather have a job that is both meaningful and economic than take advantage of opportunities to get rich," said Dai.
Though selling products abroad at high prices, he is willing to let domestic restaurants, cafes, etc. try them free of charge for months. If they agree to buy, Dai will sell products for half the export price.
Making great profits on export but he still pursues the domestic market since to him, the environment is more important. For this reason, he accepts the offset of domestic sales with profits from export.
According to Dai, plastic waste in general and plastic straws in particular is an environmental disaster which people are not aware of and still using immoderately. Today, maybe only creatures like sea turtles are affected, but in the future, humans themselves will pay the penalty for their doings.
Dai frankly admitted that the sale of rice-made products in the domestic market was not satisfactory. Nonetheless, he does not give up and still patiently lets restaurants try his products for free though the result is only small orders which are not enough to cover losses.
"I hope that one day, products made from rice will be welcomed more not because they are trial goods but because people have shown consideration for the habitat," said Dai.