There's Already an Emerging Market for Counterfeit Reusable Straws

Welcome to 2018, when everything is literally on fire and we purchase straws from the black market.
Screenshot via Kickstarter

We’ve been chronicling the recent downfall of a childhood standby you might remember fondly from sipping ice-cold root beer or a thick milkshake: the plastic straw. If you’re a fast food junkie (no judgment), the utensil might even still be a part of your daily life, but its days efficiently transporting sugary elixir straight to your lips appear to be numbered: all over the country, left-leaning municipalities such as Seattle, San Francisco and Santa Barbara are phasing out plastic straws in favor of versions created from stainless steel, paper and silicone that are reusable and thus friendlier to the environment.

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As plastic straws become more frowned-upon, and even illegal, makers of these reusable straws have stepped up their game to fill in an anticipated gap in the market. And now, they’re becoming so popular that counterfeit versions are popping up all over the internet. Welcome to 2018, when everything is literally on fire and we purchase straws from the black market.

Yesterday, news out of California—the epicenter of anti-plastic-straw activity—reported that FinalStraw, a Kickstarter-funded collapsible stainless steel straw, has encountered scammers of its product in all corners of the internet, from Amazon to eBay to Alibaba. The crowdfunded original, which comes in a sleek plastic case that can be slipped onto a keychain, did astoundingly well during its campaign, attracting 38,443 backers and raising nearly $2 million in funding. But the company—which hasn’t even finalized its product for the market—is growing exasperated by all the copycats out there.

FinalStraw cofounder Emma Cohen told BuzzFeed News that she was astounded by how many counterfeits of her product are available online. Cohen and her partner Miles Pepper have found more than 200 offenders so far, with many of the knockoffs using images of Cohen and FinalStraw stolen blatantly from the Kickstarter page.

“It’s my face. I am advertising these knockoff straws,” Cohen said.

As is so often the case with cheap copies, the imposter straws, some of which have ripped-off names like LastStraw, are tending to be less than durable. Some buyers have written to FinalStraw complaining about the straws falling apart and asking for refunds, Cohen told BuzzFeed—not understanding that they in fact purchased a knockoff.

“People are just genuinely confused, and some are angry and upset,” she said.

While FinalStraw waits for its trademark and patent applications to be approved, there’s really no legal action its founders can take against their copycats. In the meantime, imposters are likely to continue to crowd the market: it’s a potentially lucrative one, with searches of reusable straws multiplying online. Searches for metal straws on DIY darling Etsy, for example, are up more than 200 percent over the past six months, a spokeswoman for the company told SFGate.

At MUNCHIES, we’re no strangers to food fraud, having covered everything from counterfeit honey to maple syrup to olive oil. But color us surprised about a steel-straw black market… just another wacky development in this dumpster fire of a year we call 2018.