Recently, Jose Cuervo has been getting some publicity for The Agave Project: Their innovative initiative promotes using fibers from the agave plant to manufacture different materials. The main component in tequila is agave. As the world’s oldest & largest tequila producer in the world, the agave plant is an integral part of the Jose Cuervo brand. Much like hemp fibers, agave fibers can be used in a variety of products, including textiles, car parts, paper items, and more; but perhaps the most impactful use of the agave fibers today is in disposable drinking straws.

When it comes to plastic waste, every little bit counts. Disposable drinking straws alone account for only a small fraction of the plastic floating in our oceans, but one study estimates that as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s shorelines — and they’ll still be around hundreds of years from now. It’s a huge hazard to sea creatures and humans alike. So, in 2020, Jose Cuervo set out to make a difference by partnering with BioSolutions Mexico to create a more eco-friendly alternative to the traditional drinking straw.

The biggest benefit to Jose Cuervo’s agave straws is that they’re biodegradable; so even if they end up outside of the landfill, they won’t stick around forever like their fully plastic predecessors. In fact, the agave straws decompose in just one to five years in landfill conditions — about 200 times faster than regular plastic! It’s worth noting that there’s still some plastic in the agave straws — the bio-based agave polymer makes up about one third of the straw’s composition — but this is still a huge step in the right direction. Just think of how much pollution these straws can avoid: If everyone at a college town bar used agave straws, even just for one night, all of those straws would be gone within just five years. It’s ironic that something we use for mere minutes can have such a long-lasting impact, but bio-based plastics like Jose Cuervo’s agave straws are helping us be better to the planet and decrease our environmental impact. As Ana LaBorde, CEO & founder of BioSolutions Mexico, explains: 

“The agave fiber in our bio-based composites is an ideal material that not only works as a replacement to plastic, this simultaneously reduces the dependency on petroleum-based polymers, fossil fuels and water for the production of our straws.” 

Making Use of “Natural Waste”

Like many manufacturing methods today, the process of making tequila produces a ton of waste. Not all parts of the agave plant make it into the bottle with the blue label; only the “carbohydrate” (inner) part of the plant is actually used in making tequila, which leaves the tall, leafy, fibrous part of the plant behind. According to Ana LaBorde, the tequila industry generates around one million tons of harvested agave fibers every year! Until recently, it was all being discarded, merely a byproduct of the tequila production process —but now, people around the world are realizing the value of upcycled agave fibers. LaBorde says:

“Sustainability isn’t just about biodegradability – that’s the end of the story but not the beginning. It’s also about the life of the plant and how much energy and resources you need to create the biomaterial. Jose Cuervo’s upcycling of agave fibers generates a virtuous circle, and is the start of creating bio-based hybrid products that offer a meaningful improvement over traditional plastic materials,”

Alex Coronado, head of Jose Cuervo distilleries, says that the Agave Project was started to make the most of this “natural waste” from their harvesting process, and put it to good use instead of simply throwing it all away. By using almost all of the agave plant, Jose Cuervo is not only avoiding excess waste, but they are also creating jobs and providing several different industries with a sustainable, durable, and incredibly versatile material. Through the Agave Project, Jose Cuervo has helped Ford reduce the amount of plastic parts in their automobiles, and they have given back to the people of Mexico by making agave bricks for housing. There truly are endless ways to use the upcycled fibers; and since plastic has become such an essential part of our lives, this bio-based alternative offers a simple way to lessen our environmental impact. Today, there are several manufacturers bringing agave straws to businesses everywhere. Coronado says: 

“As the tequila industry worldwide booms, it is our company’s responsibility as the leader to take care of the agave plant and ensure that we are producing tequila sustainably,”

As the biggest name in tequila today, Jose Cuervo is setting an example for other companies who want to make a difference. Not only are they transforming the tequila industry, but they are proving that big businesses can (and should!) give back by using their power to benefit the planet.

More Straw-lternatives

In case you’re curious: I tried an agave straw myself, and it felt just like using a plastic one! It was super sturdy, and actually pretty cool looking — you can see what looks like pieces of the fibers inside. Better yet, ditch the disposable straws altogether, if you can! I personally carry a metal straw with me everywhere I go. If you google “reusable straws”, you can find so many alternatives made from glass, bamboo, and more. Public Goods currently has an offer for a free pack of reusable bamboo straws, and EcoWatch has a list of the 10 best reusable straws of 2021. For those of legal drinking age: Check out some of Jose Cuervo’s “Sustainable Cocktails”, which tell you how to make the most of your beverage ingredients.