In an ideal, eco-friendly world, disposable plastic water bottles wouldn’t exist; everyone would drink their water from a reusable cup or bottle. But in reality, Americans drink more than 73 billion half-liter water bottles each year, according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group – enough to circle the planet more than 370 times.
While single-use plastic water bottles may just be too convenient for our rushed, on-the-go culture to give up entirely, three industrial design students have come up with an innovative, alternative packaging for water that is so biodegradable you can even eat it when you’re done drinking. The “Ooho” water container doesn’t look like your typical water bottle; it more closely resembles a water droplet – one of nature’s most simple and beautiful forms, designer Rodrigo García González wrote on Designboom.
To make the Ooho, García and his fellow designers Pierre Paslier and Guillaume Couche used a process called spherification, which was developed in 1946 to shape liquids into spheres that are similar to caviar in both appearance and texture. In the 1990s, spherification became a popular culinary technique within the molecular gastronomy movement, after Spanish chef Ferrán Adria introduced the process at his restaurant elBulli.
The London-based students mixed together brown algae and calcium chloride to create a gelatinous, double membrane around the water – much like how the thin membrane of an egg yolk maintains it shape. The Ooho’s double membrane also keeps the water inside clean and safe for drinking. During the spherification process, the designers freeze the water into ice, so they can produce larger spheres and prevent the membrane’s ingredients from leaching into the water, FastCompany reported.
Because the Ooho is made from natural ingredients, the water sphere is completely biodegradable – or edible – after its useful life. The Ooho water container was one of the 12 winners of this year’s Lexus Design Award and will be on display during Milan Design Week, according to FastCompany.
Will this unique waste-free packaging catch on with bottled water manufacturers? Plastic water bottles are not cheap to make: In fact, about 90 percent of the price a consumer pays for bottled water is for the bottling, packaging, shipping and marketing – not the water itself, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. But the Ooho costs just two cents to make and its double-membrane structure is the perfect spot for a company to place a label between its two layers without an adhesive, García told FastCompany.
The Ooho actually seems to live up to its claims of 100 percent biodegradability, unlike other “biodegradable” plastic water bottles on the market that critics say neither degrade in the landfill nor can be recycled with conventional plastic bottles.
But this quirky globe of water has a few conundrums to sort out before it hits the marketplace: Can you transport the Ooho in your bag or backpack without piercing its membrane and spilling water? Is there a way to drink from the Ooho without water trickling out onto your clothes and body, like the woman in the video experiences? Can companies produce a water sphere large enough to compete with those super-sized plastic bottles?
In the mean time, the Ooho team hopes their design will inspire people to test out a spherification recipe and make their own water containers at home.
“Anyone can make them in their kitchen, modifying and innovating the recipe,” García told FastCompany. “It’s not DIY but CIY – cook it yourself.”
Image credit: Toyota Motor Sales
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru