Packaging is an immense environmental problem, and there’s no question that the plastic water bottle is a major offender. Bottled water is the world’s best selling soft drink and tens of millions of bottles are manufactured every single day for consumption around the world.
It’s most likely these bottles will end up sitting in landfill, joining hundreds of billions of others that will take centuries to degrade, if not more. It’s no secret that we ought to dramatically reduce our plastic footprint. And it seems that algae may hold the secret to how we can have our water – and eat it too.
Edible Water Bottles
We may be closer to a solution to the water bottle problem with a revolutionary concept by an Icelandic design student, Ari Jonsson. Instead of taking thousands of years to break down, Jonsson’s design starts to decompose immediately once empty.
The miracle component of the bottle is red algae, which is used to produce agar.
Agar was discovered in the 1600s in Japan, and is frequently used in Asian desserts, such as yokan, a red bean jelly. It’s also used as a vegetarian setting agent, as an alternative to gelatin. You may be most familiar with it from science class experiments (or CSI), using agar plates to grow organisms.
When agar powder is mixed with water, it turns into a jelly that can be moulded. This characteristic is why it’s often used to make kids’ modelling clay.
The bottle Jonsson has created needs to be filled with liquid in order to retain its shape. But once you’ve finished drinking, the bottle shrinks down and starts decomposing.
Edible and Tasty?
The other interesting element of Jonsson’s bottle is that it can be eaten.
Of course that’s not to say it would make for a pleasant eating experience, but the fact it’s of food-grade quality is another unique feature.
While you probably wouldn’t want to eat it if you purchased it from the dusty shelf of your local service station, it could make for an amazing camping hack.
Maybe we’ll see a future where bottles can be flavoured to complement the beverage inside? For now, according to Jonsson, it tastes like “seaweed jello”. Perhaps it would make a good pairing for sushi?
More Edible Packaging
There are other glimmers on the packaging horizon using algae.
Ooho!, the brainchild of three European designers, is a double membrane made from brown algae filled with water. It looks like a clear blob and is an edible water bottle in a spherical form, like the kind you find in bubble tea, or as popularised by Ferran Adrià. It looks like a lot of fun to eat and drink, and won the Lexus Design Award in 2014.
Similarly, the 2016 Lexus Award went to a team of designers from Japan, known as AMAM, who have created a plastic packaging alternative which may be applied to food. Made from red algae, the designers found that by boiling algae and dehydrating the liquid, they could create types of foam or plastic film replacements, like those you might find around a loaf of bread.
There’s still a lot of work to do to develop these concepts for commercial use. The questions is, would you eat an edible water bottle? We’d love to know – join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!