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SALT LAKE CITY — It was late 2018 when Utah entrepreneur Jeremy Smith had an epiphany while watching the news.
California had just become the first state to ban plastic straws in restaurants. Reusable straws were making a comeback as similar bans spread across the U.S. and people started worrying about the environmental impact of single-use plastic straws.
Everything from metal to plastic to glass straws witnessed a resurgence. But with them came a new question not many had worried about before: How do you properly clean inside a straw you’re going to use again?
Many reusable straws began coming in kits with pipe cleaners that drinkers would use to scrub inside the straw, hoping to clear away the gunk. Smith wanted to get rid of that step, so he called up his business partner, Sean Watkins, with whom he had already launched several successful products on Kickstarter.
Smith wanted to create a reusable straw that split in half lengthwise to make it easier to clean inside without any special gadgets or tools.
Watkins’ daughter had previously suffered from acid reflux as a young child and spent many years using straws to help her eat, he said. Watkins always loathed using the pipe cleaner and would often just throw the straw in the dishwasher, though he never felt good about that.
When Smith told Watkins about his new idea, Watkins ran home and pulled out a reusable straw that he and his kids still used for drinks and smoothies.
“I looked in, just to confirm, ‘cause my wife had been washing (them) with the dishwasher. And I saw dry, crusty, gross green smoothie in there,” he said.
Watkins asked his wife if she had washed the straw, and when she replied that she had, he threw it back in the dishwasher — just to check. When it came back out, all the crusty stuff was still there, he said.
“At that moment, (I’m) like, ‘Yeah let’s do it.'"
So, Smith and Watkins sat down and eked out a couple designs for a reusable straw you could “open." They finally decided on a straw that slides apart into two separate halves, which can then be rinsed off in the sink or thrown in the dishwasher.
The pair decided to launch the product on Kickstarter and set a goal of raising $12,000. As of Tuesday morning, the Rain Straw has raised over $140,000, with almost 5,000 backers and only three days left on the Kickstarter campaign.
“(We said), if we hit $50,000, we felt we had a good product. If we hit $100,000, we felt we had a home run,” Watkins said.
Kickstarter backers can now get a five-pack of the Rain straws for $20, a 10-pack for $30 and a 15-pack for $35. This is a significant discount from what the straws retail price might be in July ($24.99 for 5 straws, $44.99 for 10, and $59.99 for 15).
A very similar Kickstarter called icicle straw is also running concurrently, but it has a higher price point and fewer backers as of Tuesday morning. Prices for other reusable straws (complete with pipe cleaner cleaning kits) vary across the spectrum, but a buyer can get a stainless steel metal reusable straw for $1 to $1.50, though higher-end straws may price much higher.
“Our opinion is that it’s going to be a category within a year. Like, people will be searching for cleanable straws as opposed to reusable straws,” Watkins said.
The Rain straw comes in several different colors and is made of high-tolerance, BPA-free polypropylene — which can withstand temperatures of up to 257 degrees — though Watkins says they don’t want to give an exact thermal rating until they’ve finished testing the straw.