This Edible Water Bubble is an Alternative to Plastic Bottles
There is nothing more refreshing on a hot day than chewing a splash of cool water or biting into a chilled margarita. You know the feeling I’m talking about: peeling the clear membrane off of a liquid sphere, watching the beverage jiggle in the palm of your hand, and then slurping it into your mouth like you love to do.
Or have you not tried an Ooho yet, the innovative plastic water bottle alternative in an edible package? Just in time for Earth Day on April 22, this could be a strange new way to satisfy both your thirst and your desire for a less polluted planet.
London startup Skipping Rocks Lab makes the Ooho by taking the art of “spherification” (e.g., making the juice balls in boba tea) and applying it to packing beverages.
First, they dip a ball of ice in calcium chloride (a food-grade salt also used to surface roads or prevent swimming pool water from eroding concrete) and then dip it again in brown algae extract. Once the ice melts they have drinkable water in a container someone can eat.
The most exciting aspect of this edible packing is the environmental impact. For Skipping Rocks, the Ooho is the first step in a range of innovative non-plastic packaging solutions. Its coating naturally degrades after 4-6 weeks and presents a partial solution to the increasing challenge of plastic waste:
- As of 2016, the World Economic Forum estimated that countries add around 8 million metric tons of plastic to the oceans per year.
- As of 2013, Americans alone consumed around 8 million gallons of bottled water. As of 2015, China consumes more than 20 million gallons of bottled water followed by the U.S. (11 million) and Mexico (8 million). These numbers are expected only to rise.
- The production and transportation of plastic water bottles worldwide requires tens of millions of barrels of oil even before factoring in the fuel for transportation.
Co-founder Pierre Paslier says Skipping Rocks is “looking at other waste streams that could potentially benefit from having natural materials being thrown at them”. Such a unique approach to the complex problem of plastic waste is of course backed by smart people along with smart money. With support from the Climate-KIC accelerator at the Imperial College of London, Skipping Rocks Lab developed the Ooho over the course of two years and recently ended a successful $1 million+ equity crowdfunding campaign.
Now that the Ooho is stable enough for market testing (as stable as a wobbly ball of liquid can be), Skipping Rocks wants to develop a machine for users to make their own Ooho balls.
Customers with an “Ooho Machine” could one day customize both their Ooho’s contents (“any beverage including water, soft drinks, [and] spirits,” according to Skipping Rocks) as well as the flavor and color of the package itself. If this will be anything like the SodaStream and capsule coffee machines, it could easily find a place in many households and restaurants (but vastly more eco-friendly, of course).
The Ooho idea is impressive, but you still might wonder about how the intended environmental impact stacks up against other factors, including:
- Durability: If the sacks need protective packaging to be transported, taken to school or work, stored at home, etc., might that defeat the purpose of being bottle-free?
- Versatility: How easy is it to consume an Ooho without making a mess? Can a runner grab a handful of Ooho pouches during a marathon?
- Visuals and Taste: Stating the obvious, the Ooho does not look like a typical bottle of water. Most people who prefer bottled water to filtered tap water base their preference on taste and a perceived superior quality. How will Ooho fit customer expectations of how water should look and taste?
- Reusable v.s. Environmentally Disposable: What is the cost and impact of a year’s consumption of Ooho pouches compared to the one-time purchase of a Nalgene bottle or stainless steel canteen?
The only way to answer these questions is to try an Ooho, and Skipping Rocks Lab is giving that opportunity to U.K. residents now. Oohos will be provided at events like marathons and music concerts (presumably where the running endorphins or party mood will make it less strange to drink a liquid golf ball).