Several people recently have mentioned the LifeStraw to me. I found this rather surprising, because these were people that I would not have expected to know about the technology. Apparently LifeStraw’s marketing has touched a wide audience.

Those I spoke to commented on how great the technology is. The ultra-portable water filter makes accessing clean and safe water easier in many areas around the world. You don’t need anything fancy. You don’t need a container, and you don’t need to wait a long time. You just drink straight from your contaminated stream or bucket, and the straw does all the work. Instantaneously.

Another advantage is that the LifeStraw maintains the point-of-use feature but without chemicals. Iodine and chlorine also purify water, but they can cause long term effects if ingested too much.

So, LifeStraw looks great, right? That’s what all the people I spoke to thought. I, however, am a bit more critical.

I like the idea, but I feel the straw is missing a few key features. First off, the filters cannot be replaced. You can use the straw to filter up to 700 liters of water, but after that you need to buy a new straw, not just a new filter. Currently, most of the LifeStraws are donated, not purchased, meaning that that if the straw life runs its course then the user is left with nothing again.

Secondly, LifeStraw does not filter out parasites such as giardia or heavy metals such as arsenic. These are key things here, and LifeStraw cannot handle them.

I’d also be curious to hear more about cultural acceptability of the straw. Do people like it? Will they actually use it in the long term? How much will they purchase it for?

LifeStraw is only one part of the puzzle. If people use the straw, but continue to cook and wash with contaminated water, then how much good is it doing? But incorporating this is all a part of the marketing and distribution, and I unfortunately have found very little information on how LifeStraw is going about this other than partnering with interested NGOs around the world.

I’m glad that people know about LifeStraw, because it means the world is paying more attention to appropriate technology in general. However, I think we all need to be a bit more critical before donating our money to technology that may not be ready for mass distribution.

Additionally, we can learn just as much from a technology’s flaws as we can from its successes.

(Image taken from LifeStraw’s website)