Engineering 101

Could this be the answer to the world’s plastic pollution?

With there being so much litter in today’s world, anything that can reduce the amount of trash produced is good news. Here is where Skipping Rocks Lab comes in; the UK based company is trying to save our planet just one plastic bottle at a time, and has developed a bubble-like product that holds water, without there being any litter at the end of it.

The product I’m talking about is Ooho, which is made from 100% plants and seaweed, and looks like clear bouncy balls.

We’ve all tried slurping, downing, sipping and guzzling a drink of water, now imagine eating it, as this company claims they make packaging disappear.

With a goal to create a waste-free alternative to plastic bottles, cups, plates and anything you can name, the vision is to become the leading global producer of seaweed-based packaging. This hopefully will lead to an impact of stopping one billion plastic bottles reaching the ocean every year, and to stop three million kg of CO2 from ever being emitted.

These little water balls are biodegradable in four to six weeks, so are essentially like a piece of fruit. They are completely safe and edible, and can even be flavored and colored to your preference.

The blob-like product is guaranteed to be fresh and has a shelf life that lasts for a few days. With five times less carbon dioxide and nine times less energy against polyethylene terephthalate (PET), it is extremely environmentally friendly, and who doesn’t want to consume a quirky water ball?

And if you weren’t already sold on the idea, it’s cheaper than plastic too, so as times get tough this really could be the solution.

Skipping Rocks Lab intends to become the ‘Tetrapak’ of sustainable packaging. The company plans to sell the materials, the machinery and the branded products that put seaweed at the forefront of all packaging.

The idea originally came from Pierre Paslier and Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, who set out to create an alternative to plastic bottles that are thrown away every day. The impact of the packaging industry is a growing concern, on resources, pollution and the environment.

Over 36 billion plastic bottles are consumed each year and that number is growing at four percent per annum. Producing a 1L PET bottle consumes up to 7L of water, 200g of crude oil, and will generate 30g of waste that will take 700 years to decompose. This waste often ends up in the marine environment and even enters our food chain through consumption by fish.

More than 30% of these bottles are 500ml or less, which ends up representing a considerable amount of waste for drinking on the go, on an average use that’s five minutes per plastic bottle.

But what about health and safety? Well the water comes packaged in a double layer of the membrane, with the idea you peel the first layer off, pierce the second layer and quench your thirst by getting that water down you.

Biting into the product and eating it after is optional. Ooho designer, Paslier said: “At the end of the day you don’t have to eat it, but the edible part is there to show how natural it is.”

The biodegradable blob encloses just a small volume of water in a membrane made from brown algae and calcium chloride, and the manufacturing process is covered under a creative commons license, which makes the recipe freely distributed and ready for anyone to use.

It has been tested for its safety and biodegradability in our stomachs and there is no need to worry, as the biocompatibility of alginate gels for consumption has been well-established. Natural polysaccharides resistant to breakdown by human digestive enzymes, alginates are classified as dietary fiber and although they are left undigested if eaten, the Ooho capsule will gradually decompose as the calcium diffuses out of the gel matrix in the reverse of the reaction.

By now, I am pretty sure you are sold on the idea, so what are you waiting for?

Well as much as this sounds like the answer to all global warming prayers, the Ooho is not yet available commercially. Skipping Rocks Lab and the manufacturers are working hard to bring the product to market as soon as possible, and prototypes have been tested in several markets in Europe, but at the moment the membrane is too thin and weak to withstand shipping and handling on a large scale.

Fear not though, as this summer the company will be selling its own brand of flavored waters and health shots at shops, festivals in the US, and running events.

They come in three sizes, 20ml, 55ml and 150mls and flavors include – minty fresh; elderflower; blackcurrant; orange; ginger shots and hot shots. Going forward the company wants to work with brands to encapsulate their drinks, and with retailers to have Ooho production capability in every store.

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