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How LifeStraw Works


LifeStraw Distribution
A man waits to use a public restroom in New Delhi, India. Twenty five percent of New Delhi's 16 million residents have no access to running water.
A man waits to use a public restroom in New Delhi, India. Twenty five percent of New Delhi's 16 million residents have no access to running water.
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The U.N. wants to reduce the number of people without access to sustainable water by half by 2015. While digging new wells and putting in water treatment plants are viable solutions, some experts feel that personal filtration systems are a more successful means of creating clean water. For example, studies have shown that filtration is the most effective way to prevent diarrhea. Treating water at the household level has been proven to be more than twice as effective in preventing diarrhea as treating water at the source [source: UNICEF]. In light of this information, many humanitarian and disaster relief organizations focus on point-of-use water treatment technology. These groups can purchase the personal LifeStraw for a ballpark figure of $6.50 each and the family units at $25. If you're a hiker or camper in the United States and want one for your own use, you'll pay about $20-$25 for personal LifeStraw. Prices, of course, will vary according to when and where you buy the products.

But it's Vestergaard Frandsen's newest way of distributing LifeStraw (through its Carbon for Water program) that has gained quite a bit of attention. The company is actually giving away its product to Kenyans: In September 2011, The New York Times reported that more than a million LifeStraw Family units were already donated in Kenya that year, and the company has made units available to 4.5 million Kenyans so far [sources: Hoffman, Wilhelm].

But the company is definitely benefiting -- economically -- as well, as it participates in a lucrative carbon offset program. By allowing Kenyans to filter their water (as opposed to burning wood to boil it), Vestergaard Frandsen receives carbon credits. Those credits are then sold -- at a profit -- to companies who are looking for a way to offset their own pollution or costs. And thus, the company makes money on its donation [source: Katayama].

This doesn't sit well with everyone. Some point out that the recipients of LifeStraws aren't usually boiling their water, so a carbon offset wouldn't apply [source: Starr]. Then, of course, there's the fact that Vestergaard Frandsen is making a profit when selling the carbon credits, while completing a clever marketing move by putting LifeStraws in many Kenyan homes -- LifeStraws that will someday need to be replaced, presumably.