Bottled water is its own inconvenient truth. Carrying bottled water seems like a necessity for a society that is continually on the move, but there's a very real environmental cost. According to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), each American on average drank 30.8 gallons of bottled water in 2012, an increase of 5.3 percent from the year prior. Exact recycling statistics differ: IBWA says that 38.6 percent of single-serve PET water bottles are recycled, but a National Geographic article notes that only one in six bottles reaches the recycling bin. But the bottom line remains the same—a large number of the water bottles bought and consumed are tossed out.
Concerns about waste have motivated manufacturers to reduce the amount of plastic in their bottles, and cities like Concord, Mass. and San Francisco have already banned the sale of single-serve water bottles.
They are the subject of frequent redesigns. Past designs have included a square bottle, which could be later filled with sand and used to build a wall, as well as more common bottle designs that just use less plastic. But what if the bottle were eliminated altogether?
Enter Ooho, an unexpected proposal by industrial designers Rodrigo García González, Pierre Paslier, and Guillaume Couche of Skipping Rocks Lab. Ooho provides portable water without the bottle—instead, a bio-based membrane made of brown algae and calcium chloride forms a container around liquid.
Ooho is biodegradable and even edible, if you so choose. While I haven't tasted it, the coating is materially similar to the types of seaweed-based gelatins used in Japanese cuisine. It's more sensitive and delicate than a typical plastic bottle made from polyethylene terephthalate, and although it's hard to know without first-hand experience, it's likely that a sufficiently vigorous toss would rupture the coating.
The product won a Lexus Design Award and was featured at this month's Milan Design Week.
The technology was inspired by the molecular gastronomy movement, which has inspired a range of foods produced with gelatins, including green tea noodles (made from gelatinized tea) or carrot cream (made from gelatinized carrots). My colleague Barry Kudrowitz recently conducted a workshop where architecture students experimented in this way with food. Ooho is also similar to market-ready products like Wikipearl, a type of plastic-free food that has its own edible wrapper, like ice cream mochi balls.
There are downsides, however. First of all, Ooho looks messy. Transporting the delicate spheres so they don't break or pick up dust and other particles would also likely be difficult. They also only hold a small amount of water. For this reason, the product is probably just a fad, but it's a provocative—although slightly more awkward—alternative to conventional disposable containers.
Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.