By Amy Natarajan
You have slurped, chugged, and sipped water, but have you ever tried eating it? Well, now it is time to think outside of the bottle. Those are the words of wisdom from a London-based innovative start-up called Skipping Rocks Lab, a group of researchers and business developers whose aim is to make product packaging obsolete. Their solution to the unsustainable production and disposal of plastic bottles is to make an edible water bottle you can safely eat and drink. It’s called Ooho!, and it’s a spherical blob of water held in a thin, edible membrane that is small enough to be popped into the mouth.
Quirky? Yes, but also incredibly smart. Skipping Rocks Lab has set a goal of creating innovative, sustainable packaging for products. The idea for the Ooho! came from the culinary world, where liquids are packaged using what is called spherification—an ice ball is dipped in a mix of brown algae and calcium chloride. A clear membrane forms, holding the ice as it melts, eventually giving way to a sphere of water, juice or other liquid. Some have suggested the end result looks very much like a breast implant or even a jellyfish. Each globule holds about nine ounces of water (250 ml). “We are pioneering the use of natural materials extracted from plants and seaweed, to create packaging with low environmental impact,” Ooho!’s website declared.
Because the membrane is made from natural ingredients, it can be eaten or tossed in a compost pile, or perhaps on the ground, where it biodegrades over the course of a week or so. On the company’s website, it’s noted that the process can be modified to create different sized balls and membrane thicknesses—it can even be made to allow for edible labels (made with rice paper) to be suspended between layers. Flavors can also be added to the membrane itself; otherwise, it is tasteless.
The purpose of the project, the development team claims, is to “to stop 1 billion plastic bottles reaching the ocean every year & to stop 300 million kg of CO2 from ever being emitted.” Bottled water, which now outsells all other packaged beverages in the United States, presents a clear environmental problem.
“Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year,” according to Ban The Bottle, a blog dedicated in banning bottled water usage, stated. Not only is this plastic problem poisoning our environment, it’s also burning through precious nonrenewable resources. Ooho!’s creation is far more environmentally responsible than a single-use bottle. The team at Skipping Rocks wants to make and sell/lease the machine that is used to create the Ooho!, which would allow venues to produce them on site, instead of selling water in plastic bottles—prime possibilities would include marathons, concerts, park-side stands or amusement parks.
Ooho! does not need to be eaten inevitably, since it’s also compostable. “When people try it for the first time, they want to eat it because it’s part of the experience,” explained Pierre Paslier, cofounder of Skipping Rocks Lab, in an interview conducted by Fast News. “Then it will be just like the peel of a fruit. You’re not expected to eat the peel of your orange or banana. We are trying to follow the example set by nature for packaging.” Still, you can simply toss aside the water blob and they’ll naturally break down. That is far more than you can say for a plastic bottle. Even the packaging for the product containers will be composed of solely biodegradable material. Since 2014, it’s been surging through the UK startup scene, and as of now Ooho! has brought $756,000 up to two days of crowdfunding on Crowdcube, a prominent crowdfunding company.
Like any grand product like Ooho!, there are some issues that need to be resolved before the triumph over bottles occurs. The ability to transport the edible water blobs is one of the biggest challenges, since the balls themselves appear to be fragile and burst under moderate pressure, or become dirty. From a consumer standpoint, people would have to grow accustomed to the texture of the globule, as well as adept at eating the Ooho! without splashing water everywhere (if they chose to eat it). If not, the water is still drinkable by merely nibbling on the outer core and sipping the inside. Finally, though the smaller spheres can be encased inside a bigger sphere in order to carry around large amounts of water to go,the Ooho! At a marathon, the size might be 50 milliliters, or a couple of sips; at a Starbucks, it might be 150 milliliters. Depending on the circumstances presented, the Ooho! is flexible to the user.
Ooho! currently being sold at company events in London, San Francisco and Boston, but the plan is to make it more attainable for everyone. “Anyone can make them in their kitchen, modifying and innovating the recipe,” wrote Rodrigo García González, co-founder & Co-CEO of Ooho! in his design brief of the product. “It’s not DIY but CIY–cook it yourself.” Half of the cash will be utilized to create Skipping Rocks Lab hardware, and the other half will pay for innovative work in making the material, which is as of now practically identical to plastic in cost of production, less expensive, quicker, and truly better. Technological innovations truly are the way forward to a sustainably green future.