Overall, LifeStraw’s personal water filter might not go a long way towards tackling sustainability if used for personal hiking needs, however, the company is no doubt making impacts at a larger, global-scale level. The other larger products that they feature such as the LifeStraw Community (a 50L water tank) can go a long way towards ensuring that safe drinking water is met as a basic human need around the world.
LifeStraw’s Personal Water Filters are small, safe-drinking devices that allow for convenience and provide a good backup option on outdoor trips. Dubbed by some as the invention of the century, the device is meant to be used as a straw to drink water that may be contaminated, such as river/stream water. According to LifeStraw, the filter removes 99.999999% of bacteria, 99.999% of parasites, and 99.999% of microplastics, dirt, sand, and cloudiness through its membrane filter. It is worth noting that this does not reduce potential chemicals, lead, or viruses as it relies on a mechanical filtration process.
In terms of materials, LifeStraw is committed to only working with plastic materials that are recyclable for both its products and packaging. This means that all of the materials that make up the LifeStraw are recyclable with the exception of carbon filters, which are not used in the basic LifeStraw product. The plastic nature of the materials means that they are not biodegradable, and must be recycled to continue the sustainable lifecycle. An irony that is involved with this product is that it removes almost all microplastics from the potentially contaminated water, yet is made of mostly plastic itself.
Overall, I would this section a 1 because they do try to make their components completely recyclable, however, that is only one part of the product’s lifecycle. The fact that plastic is not biodegradable means that the rest would depend on informed consumers who are thoughtful about their actions.
According to the LifeStraw Help webpage, the company’s products are designed in Switzerland and the United States and then manufactured in South Korea. There is little information about the design and manufacturing process itself, but as aforementioned in the “what it’s made of” section, they are committed to sourcing plastic materials that are fully recyclable. A product that is fully recyclable is still dependent on consumers to make sure that it is properly discarded.
Another lifecycle consideration is something that I came across when reading the product reviews. It seemed like a number of customers had troubles with the LifeStraw not sucking water properly, rendering the product not useable. This would be detrimental towards its innate purpose of reducing the plastic used to generate clean water as consumers would have to repurchase the product multiple times. In general, this does not seem to be a major problem, and when working properly, a single LifeStraw could definitely be used in place of many plastic water bottles.
Besides lifecycle, there was little transparency from LifeStraw’s main and help pages on labor and wage practices. Although, I did find a blog that detailed how the company has continued to support local communities in various regions around the world such as Myanmar, Vietnam, and Kenya throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The blog mentioned that LifeStraw’s field staff would continue to receive full salaries even while staying at home.
From the lack of information to fair labor practices, supply chain, and manufacturing it is kind of difficult to give this section a higher score.
LifeStraw is built on the belief that safe water is a human right, and seeks to achieve this basic human need through technology, innovation, product quality, and design. They also believe that it is their responsibility to ensure social and environmental sustainability throughout their value chain beyond their products. Besides the inherent sustainable development goal that the product tackles in clean water, there is not too much other evidence of sustainable initiatives taking place in the traditional material sense.
However, in this regard alone it might more than makeup for other shortcomings. So far, much of this review has been rather negative in the framework of sustainability of its LifeStraw personal filter product. That should not take away from how much the company has substantially impacted many lesser developed regions of the world without constant access to clean drinking water. In Kenya alone, LifeStraw products have provided safe water to hundreds of thousands of kids through their schools. This includes monthly visits to ensure proper filter functions and on-call support for repairs. The company also sends teams to regions that have been affected by natural disasters to distribute products, such as Puerto Rico after an earthquake in 2019, India after a deadly tropical cyclone in 2020, and El Salvador during a tropical storm this year. Among other humanitarian work, Lifestraw has also worked towards helping Navajo Nation families suffering heavily from covid, provided care packages for homeless people, and partnered with an anti-child slavery NGO.
LifeStraw also mentions that it is currently evaluating a recycling program that will help its sustainability efforts and hopefully reduce the responsibility of consumers (every consumer should still be mindful of their impact!!!).
From all of this, there is no doubt that LifeStraw has made significant impacts in sustainability by tackling the safe drinking water inequalities that exist around the world.