After two-and-a-half years of research and development, Spinelli's company BOSS Straw rolled out its first paper straws in 2021. Spinelli guarantees they'll hold up for 24 hours within a drink. Plus, they don't taste pulpy, interfering with the flavor of a beverage. His company's website humorously declares them to be "paper straws that don't suck."
It all started for Spinelli with a flimsy paper straw in a glass of iced tea at a community event about seven years ago. The straw "fell apart in about 15 minutes," says Spinelli. "That was my first experience, really since I was a kid, of a paper straw." Three months later, the same thing happened again at another gathering.
Many locales and businesses across America have begun choosing -- or flat-out mandating -- the use of paper straws to counter the environmental damage posed by plastics. "In the United States, every day, we use 500 million plastic straws," says Spinelli. "And for those 500 million that go into landfill, it takes 200 years to break down back into soil." BOSS Straw straws -- which come in four sizes ranging in length from 5.75 inches (“The Weekender” for cocktails) to 10 inches (“The Big Boss,” ideal for towering milkshakes) -- are biodegradable within about 90 days.
Spinelli had a unique vantage point to view the quandary: environmentally destructive plastic straws versus preferable but subpar paper ones. "I'd been in the paper business a long time," says Spinelli, a Chicago native who also runs a company that makes fluorescent, sublimation, and carbonless varieties of paper. "I know a lot about the manufacturing of paper. I thought, 'You know, I need to spend some time figuring out how I can actually make a straw that's as good as, if not better than, plastic.'"
Spinelli's process consists of "marrying three grades of paper" to produce a durable straw -- something so strong that it actually works better than a plastic straw in a milkshake, he declares, and from which liquid doesn't spit out the top when it's inserted into a soft drink. Spinelli says of his closely guarded design process, "I will never patent any of that because when I do China will be copying my patent."
Spinelli spent over $1.5 million purchasing a straw-making machine -- the results of German engineering and French manufacturing -- designed specifically to meet his company's needs. Some straw-making machines can be purchased from China for as little as $50,000, Spinelli notes. But he considers his Chinese competition a large part of the problem: manufacturing both cheap plastic and paper straws while possibly using questionable chemicals in the process. BOSS Straw straws are both food safe and FDA compliant.
Today, the company distributes "anywhere from three to six million" paper straws per month, on average. And Spinelli is quick to point out how they're used at Hard Rock Hotels and Disney locations.
And, apparently, they do stand up for 24 hours within a drink as the BOSS Straw website maintains. That was the verdict of Fox News' Jesse Watters after putting one of the straws to the test on TV. "We are the only company in the world that will give you your money back if our [paper] straw doesn't last 24 hours in any drink," says Spinelli.
Actually, Spinelli says his straws lasted for at least two weeks in a variety of drinks -- hot or cold --when his company tested them out before ending the experiment. Still, he reasons conservatively, "People aren't going to believe you when you start saying something like that!"
In terms of environmental consciousness, Spinelli adds how, "It's just common sense to have a product that is Earth-friendly versus a product that is not." Another one of his reasons for starting BOSS Straw has been to "bring more jobs here" to Illinois, rather than seeing the manufacturing done overseas.
And there's a third reason, as well: "If I'm going to get into the arena of replacing something, I'm a very strong believer it better be equal to or better than" what's being replaced, says the big boss at BOSS Straw.
Challenges: Spinelli says the challenge is, "Overcoming bad paper straws that have been sold in this country for the last 10 years -- whether they be from a couple of domestic manufacturers here in the U.S. or the junk coming in from China."
Opportunities: Once a potential customer tries Spinelli's straws, they usually buy them, Spinelli says. "So, the opportunity is we have to get the word out -- and you don't do that overnight," he observes.
Needs: Finding an influencer to present the product to a wider audience. "In today's world, buyers do not want to see you," in comparison with the more straightforward business approach two decades ago, says Spinelli.