Here’s something to chew on. Can a gulp of water help save the planet? If you’re drinking *and* eating your water at the same time, the answer may be yes.
A start-up company called Skipping Rocks Lab has created a “water bubble” encased in an edible sachet that you can pop in your mouth whole. Or if you’re not into swallowing it, you can tear off the edge, drink up, and toss the rest in a composter. The tasteless packaging is made from brown seaweed that biodegrades naturally in four to six weeks, whereas plastic water bottles can linger for hundreds of years.
The founders of the London-based company are determined to “make plastic packaging disappear.” They had two foodie inspirations: molecular gastronomists and fruit. They tried to emulate the way chefs used edible membranes to encase bubbles of liquid to make things like fake caviar and fake egg yolks; and they also considered the peel of an orange or banana, which protects the tasty insides but can be composted.
The sachets can also contain other liquids that come in single-serve plastic containers — think packets of condiments with takeout meals, specialty cocktails at parties, and especially single servings of water for sporting events. The London Marathon last month gave out the water bubble pods at a station along the route, using them to replace 200,000 plastic bottles that would have likely ended up first in the street, and ultimately in the ocean.
The engineers and chemists at Skipping Rocks intend to lease their machines to others who can then manufacture their own sachets on-site to fill with whatever they desire. The new material, which is dubbed “Notpla” (not plastic), also has other applications beyond holding liquids. It can be used to replace the plastic lining in cardboard takeout boxes, for example. And the startup is working on additional materials to replace other types of ubiquitous plastic packaging, like the netting that encases garlic and onions, and the sachets that hold nails and screws.
One hurdle is that the pods are not very hardy, so while they work fine to hand out along a marathon route, they wouldn’t really be viable for a hiker to throw in her backpack. Another issue concerns the retail market: to be stable on a shelf, they’d have to be protected from all that handling, which brings us back to the problem the engineers tried to solve in the first place — disposable packaging.
So while Skipping Rocks may not achieve their ultimate goal of ridding the world of plastic waste, a little progress can still go a long way. If edible water bubbles are the future of drinks at sporting events and festivals, the environment will certainly benefit from their presence — and absence.