The world is facing an acute problem of plastic pollution, and the biggest contributor to the growing menace is plastic bottles used to pack and sell packaged drinking water. Design student Rodrigo García González, who has already made a name for himself by inventing a smart suitcase that follows its owner, has done it again with a water container that doesn’t pose a threat to the environment once its contents are consumed.
Rodrigo has come up with a simple technique; make the container edible. He has designed or rather improved upon a technique to encase liquid in a membrane that can be consumed once the water is drunk. In case you are paranoid about eating containers, the membrane is completely biodegradable and can be simply discarded into the wild and it will dissolve a whole lot faster than the plastic bottle.
Interestingly titled Ooho, the product is basically just a commercial application of a scientific technique called spherification. Essentially it involves encapsulating a sphere of liquid in a membrane. In Rodrigo’s Ooho case, the membrane happens to be a gelatinous, edible membrane. The technique is simple to explain, but a whole lot difficult to implement, especially on a grand commercial scale.
The technique revolves around the concept of allowing the bottle to take shape as it coalesces around the liquid, instead of creating a bottle and then filling it with water. On a pilot scale, González and his team first took a frozen ball of water and dipped it into a calcium chloride solution, which formed a gelatinous layer. Then, the ball was soaked in another solution made from brown algae extract, which encapsulated the ice in a second squishy membrane to reinforce the entire structure. Keeping the water in the algae solution for long periods of time allows the mold to become thicker and stronger.
Speaking about his technique, Rodrigo said, “The main point in manipulating the water as solid ice during the encapsulation is to make it possible to get bigger spheres and allow the calcium and algae to stay exclusively in the membrane.”
The challenges, of course, are manifold. How to make the balls larger and ensure they are transported safely. Currently, there is a product which comes in edible packing, but the entire product is packed in a thin plastic film. The same, if done for the edible water bottles, will only add to plastic pollution, instead of addressing it.
However, Rodrigo hasn’t given up hope, and has gone through hundreds of prototypes, with the latest ones being tested on the streets of Spain.
[Image Credit | Rodrigo García González]