BY: DANIEL KORN
Everyone pretty much agrees that bottled water is awful. Aside from the ludicrousness of being sold a natural resource for 1,000 times the cost of getting it from a tap, the phenomenon comes with an astounding number of negative effects on the environment. It drains our non-renewable energy sources, with 17 million barrels of oil used to produce plastic bottles each year. Those bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate plastics, which don’t fully biodegrade for centuries and break down into smaller fragments that can contaminate soil and sicken animals. Recycling would help quell this, but only about 20 percent of the 50 million water bottles we buy each year end up in a recycling bin—the rest are shoved into landfills. Bottled water does not taste better than tap water, and may in fact be worse for you, as plastic leeches from the bottle into the water you’re drinking.
An alternative to portable water storage has been provided by London, England’s Skipping Rocks Lab in the form of an “edible blob” called the Ooho!. Water is stored in a spherical double membrane made up of brown algae and calcium chloride, and ingested by either puncturing a hole in the membrane and sucking water out juice-box style, or just tossing the entire blob into your mouth at once. Think of the way the characters of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life drink water in “drop” form and you’ve got the right idea. Ooho! is environmentally friendly, and it’s being developed under a Creative Commons license, meaning the plans will be released for home use. In fact, there are already several YouTube how-to videos on the subject.
It’s a neat idea, but I can’t honestly see Ooho! taking off. The three designers of the technology are trying to set this up as a consumer product, but the squishiness is not particularly well-suited to the hygiene or durability requirements of mass production and dissemination. Granted, it’s still in the R&D phase, but I’m skeptical they’ll be able to solve these issues in a cost-effective manner. In addition, if they want this to take off, it needs a name change —Ooho! is just awful, difficult to both type and use in conversation. Critically, while the DIY aspect is fun, it takes about 20 minutes to prepare enough water to last you just a few sips, and I’m not quite sure why someone would do this rather than just carry a reusable water bottle around with them. And while the intentions of the creators are good, it seems like treating the laziness of water bottle consumers at the source would be a more effective manner of staving off the environmental effects than giving companies another way to package a natural resource as a product.