A reusable straw made from injection molded parts sucked up a lot of attention and more than $75,000 of financial support on the project launch site Kickstarter.
The "high-tolerance" polypropylene product called Rain Straw comes in halves that slide together for drinking and then slide apart for cleaning. Despite having two components, the product offers the same suction and performance as typical extruded straws, according to the creators.
"With the Rain Straw's patent-pending airlock design we guarantee a no-drip sip for the lifetime of the straw, which is about a million years. So, make sure to put your straw in your will," quips a product spokesperson in the Kickstarter video.
The developers of Rain Straw say it is better for the environment than single-use plastic straws, which end up as litter or landfilled, and better for the user's health and hygiene because it comes apart and all debris can be seen and removed.
The Kickstarter video shows droplets and chunks coating the inner walls of cross sections of extruded straws used to drink smoothies, coffee and milk. It warns that dishwashers clean only outer surfaces and pipe cleaners don't get all the debris.
Rain Straw says its two-part construction allows for quick and thorough cleaning with a rinse, towel or dishwasher and then users can see that it is clean.
"If you can't get a look inside your straw after you wash or scrub it, you will never know what is still lurking inside," the product video says. "That means you'll be flushing your mouth with new and old flavors for weeks to come. Mmmm, moldy spinach cola."
Rain Straw's creators are Jeremy Smith and Sean Watkins. They're doing business as Rain with Smith as the chief innovation officer and Watkins as CEO. The pair have worked on several successful Kickstarter campaigns, including SnapRays night/guide lights and SnapPower USB ports. Snap Rays raised $480,411 in 30 days through Kickstarter and won a Best of IBS award at the 2015 International Builders' Show.
With straws a hot topic lately, Smith began looking into problems with the current options.
"The first and most obvious problem he came across was how difficult they are to clean," Watkins said. "After some experimenting he approached me with the idea of the Rain Straw. Immediately after hearing him out, I went straight home and pulled out my kids reusable straws from the clean drawer. I took one look inside the straw and saw crusty dried up smoothie residue on the inside walls. That's when I knew this was a real problem that needed solving."
Rain Straw reached its $12,000 fund-raising goal in less than an hour. Nine days into its month-long fund-raising campaign was at $75,000 from almost 2,900 backers with one commenting, "Always thought reusable straws were too disgusting and hard to clean. Just went in for 20 and plan on gifting a bunch out."
The Rain Straw video says if a straw goes unwashed for 24 hours it can harbor as much bacteria as a public toilet seat.
The online campaign page cites the controversial statistic that American use 500,000 single-use straws every day and attributes it to experts. One commenter challenged the figure and its source, which was a 9-year-old student working on a school project in 2011. Another project follower noted that many U.S. cities are banning plastic straws but the country isn't a big contributor to plastic marine debris.
"Basically, if other countries don't learn to better manage their trash then nothing's going to change," he said.
A third person said he didn't care if the number for single-use plastic straws was inflated.
"Use your eyes and you'll see that they're everywhere," he said. "That's all the research I need."
Now that the Rain Straw, project is funded, Smith and Watkins will start the tooling process for the final product, ramp up for production in April and begin full manufacturing in May. They've picked a manufacturer with a headquarters in China and production facility in the Philippines.
"It's going well so far but it has certainly been a new challenge for us," Watkins told Plastics News. "Because something like this has not been injected molded before, it has taken us additional work to find a factory that is even capable of doing something like this."
The tooling process for the Rain Straw is considered complex for a few reasons, Watkins added.
"Because the width of the plastic material is relatively thin in comparison to it's length, the tool must be extremely high precision in order to create a tight fit. It is also important that it be shot in a specific manner in order to prevent any deformation. The factory doing this needs to be highly skilled and specialized in this type of tooling.
Watkins and Smith expect to start shipping the product to backers in July and will sell Rain Straw through their website, online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores. The planned prices are five for $25, 10 for $45 and 15 for $60.