Entrepreneur travels the world saving the planet one drink at a time

Alex Bruce has an enviable lifestyle. The 28-year-old summers in Greece, taking off for months at a time, working from his laptop.

Friday, 10th January 2020, 2:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 14th January 2020, 9:57 am
Alex Bruce, founder of Turtle Straws, in a ski lift

And in the long winter months he indulges his love of snowboarding in the French Alps at the resort the A-listers flock to, Meribel.

But life isn’t one long holiday for this Millennial, despite what his social media might suggest at first glance.

The Southsea native is travelling the world saving the planet, one drink at a time.

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Alex Bruce, from Southsea, the founder of Turtle Straws, with a sea turtle.

A former pupil of St John’s College, two years ago Alex hit upon an idea to make a sustainable drinking straw that didn’t have to be thrown away after one use.

Turtle Straws are made from straw, and are much stronger than paper straws.

They are now being used as far away as Greece and New Zealand – two million have been sold so far.

And Alex wants to see them being used in his home city.

Alex Bruce, a former Southsea student who founded Turtle Straws, an eco-friendly wheat straw business, is celebrating selling two million straws. Pictured is a box of the straws.

The thoroughly modern entrepreneur says: ‘Having spent so much time on beaches and on the slopes, I became more and more aware of the gradual build-up of rubbish over the years.

‘It was getting worse every single season. In the ski resorts big teams were sent in to clear all the litter that had been dropped and then buried underneath the snow in winter.

‘The beaches were getting worse and worse and idea began prickling in the back of my mind.’

Since he left St John’s College at 18, Alex knew he did not want an ordinary life.

But he trod a rather unusual path to becoming an entrepreneur.

The bachelor has spent the past 10 years criss-crossing the world, taking jobs as diverse as nannying, pulling pints, and working on the superyachts belonging to mega-rich, something he describes as ‘glorified polishing’.

And along the way he built up a bulging contacts book of people he has been able to call upon to help him in his quest to produce sustainable drinking straws.

The nannying of children whose parents spent up to two weeks sailing around the Greek islands stood him in good stead for the future.

‘I really wanted to work in Greece, and nannying was the perfect way to live there, work, and still enjoy the opportunities Greece had to offer.

‘Some of the children were epic and some were quite annoying, but I enjoyed it.

‘At a young age it taught me patience, by working with the children, and how to talk to people, by dealing with their parents and managing their expectations.’

He is a highly qualified nanny and got to the position of looking after a team of other nannies.

Over the years of nannying and working on superyachts, Alex managed to build up a bit of cash and he wanted to use it to make a difference.

The biomedical science graduate was deeply moved by the 2015 video of a turtle being pulled from the ocean in Costa Rica with a plastic straw embedded in its nostril.

The distressing video has been watched almost 38 million times.

‘I was in Cape Town doing a course which would enable me to go back on the superyachts.

‘But by that time I had built up a seed fund and a friend from my biomedical course at university encouraged me to do something really good with that money.

‘At that stage I had no idea how to do. But I remembered the turtle video and realised what I had to do it.’

He decided not to go back on the superyachts. He says: On the superyachts I exchanged happiness for money.

‘Yes, I got to sail across the Atlantic but in fact I was a glorified polisher and spent my time saying “yes, sir”, “no, sir”.’

Things quickly began to gather pace.

Alex says: ‘I didn’t want to use paper straws. The more I delved into them, it became clear they are not particularly environmentally friendly.’

It was while he watched his mother horse-riding that he finally hit upon the idea that would change everything.

‘I looked at the ground and saw all this straw used for horse bedding and it was a lightbulb moment.

‘I’d experimented with bamboo, anything cylindrical, but it had not worked.

‘I got straw from a thatcher and set to work. Straw doesn’t go soggy, it doesn’t make drinks taste funny, it is perfect. Wheat straws are stronger than paper and can be used all evening.’

Alex is at pains to point out he has spent a lot of money on research and can ensure the straws are gluten-free because the gluten is in the wheat seed, not the straw.

Through contacts made while working abroad over the years, Alex found a producer in China.

Alex says: ‘I went from having an inkling of an idea, to going full power.’

‘When people are at beach bars their rubbish, particularly plastic straws, stick in the ground and get washed out into the ocean.

‘Turtle Straws are not harmful to the environment, they are as close to grass as you can get.’

So what does the future hold for Alex and Turtle Straws?

‘I’m really keen to encourage local businesses – bars and restaurants especially – to get involved. It would be great to see Turtle Straws used in the city.

‘I’m not sure where I’ll be in the summer. I may go to Australia, I haven’t made a decision yet. Quite often I’ll make my mind up and act on it quite quickly. I could be working on a beach or staying at home.

‘It’s amazing to have that choice, it’s the best thing ever. I’m able to base myself wherever I want in the world, run my business, know that I’m doing a fundamentally good thing and push myself forward as a person.

To buy Turtle Straws, go to the website, turtlestraws.co.uk.