An Analy High School graduate who invented and patented the “FinalStraw” as the ecologically correct alternative — foldable and reusable — to those ubiquitous plastic tubes for drinking liquids has raised $1.9 million through a Kickstarter funding campaign and is searching for a factory to produce them.
“The FinalStraw is the greatest advancement in sucking technology since, like, forever,” said Miles Pepper, 23, who currently lives in the Los Angeles area and graduated from Analy in 2013. “It folds into a tiny case that fits on your keychain and it self-assembles like magic.”
The environmental argument against use of plastic drinking straws has been building over the years as the public comes to understand that 500 million of them get used and tossed in the trash every day in the U.S. alone. They don’t biodegrade any better than plastic bags and their single-use status makes them a threat to marine and animal life, according to advocates of banning them entirely.
Pepper’s redesign of the common drinking straw comes at time when an increasing number of places — Malibu and Seattle in the U.S., Scotland and Taiwan across the seas, for example — have banned plastic drinking straws because they don’t break down in landfills, no more so than plastic bags and foam cups.
Over the last several months, the New York Times has been chronicling the demise of the plastic drinking straw, noting that the Queen of England is banning them from royal events in Great Britain, that cruise ship lines are moving to eliminate them and that airlines and hotels are not far behind.
“Every time I went into my local coffee shop to get an iced drink, I left with a plastic straw because I didn’t want to spill it all over myself while driving,” Pepper said, recalling the day last September that it struck there must be a collapsible, reusable straw somewhere on the internet. “But all I could find were bendable ones for kids drinks and fancy ones for snorting cocaine.”
Pepper came up a design, filed for patent rights and took on a partner, Emma Cohen, whom he met at Burning Man last year, who worked at Los Alamos National Laboratories and who is completing her masters degree at Harvard University in environmental management.
His father, Rick, an avid Sonoma County bicyclist, invented and produced a titanium identification “Crashtag” — much like a soldier’s metal identity tag — that used laser etching to inscribe emergency contact, health insurance and vital personal information necessary in the event a cyclist was injured during a ride. It allowed more characters than a Twitter tweet and included an opening that served as a bottle top opener.
Although he acknowledges inspiration from his dad’s invention, he credits Analy’s Project Make class with giving him technical production skills and his former video production teacher, Ann Humphrey who now teaches at Twin Hills Charter Middle School, with encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit among students.
“We produced videos, but we also learned how to find clients, negotiate agreements and handle deliverables and deadlines,” he said.
After graduating from Analy in 2013, Pepper moved to Berkeley and then to the Los Angeles area to work in video production and editing in the television and movie industries.
Pepper turned to Kickstarter as a fast and reliable way to raise money for the FinalStraw venture. By the time his funding campaign ended May 19, he had raised $1.9 million from more than 38,000 investors and had orders for 77,000 straws.
Pepper estimates delivery of the FinalStraw in November and the device will likely be priced about $20.
With tongue firmly in cheek, Pepper said his device encourages people to “suck responsibly.”
His aim is “to reduce plastic straw use by giving people a convenient, collapsible, resusable alternative. In doing so, we hope to make the public more aware of the devastating effects of plastic pollution and use that awareness to pressure restaurants to stop serving straws.”
Pepper said his team has produced 200 samples and tested them before settling on a design.
The FinalStraw is 23 centimeters (9 inches) long is made of stainless steel, medical-grade tubing and folds into four sections that fit into a container about 7.3 centimeters (3 inches) high and 3.3 centimeters (1.25 inches) wide. It is designed to fit on a keychain and it self-assembles when pulled out of the carry case. And comes with a cleaning squeegee that reams the length of the tubing.
It is dishwasher safe and can be used for cold and hot beverages. The case is about a big as the key fob of modern cars.
“I am floored by the response, it is crazy, I never would have expected this,” he said. “Sure, it is just a drinking straw, but it does get people to think about single use products and it leads you to a bigger conversation about all the little ways we can help Mother Earth.”