Are Edible Water Bubbles the Future of Eco-Friendly Hydration?


Water is one of Earth’s most precious commodities. It’s the substance that sustains life and makes our planet habitable. It’s a tad ironic then that water has also come to play a major role in polluting the Earth’s surface—or to be more accurate, it's those damn plastic bottles water comes stored in.

Every year, Americans dump 50 billion of those suckers in the trash. Most of those bottles, notes Tara Lohan, don't get recycled. Why is this a problem? The petroleum-based plastic—polyethylene terephthalate (PET)—used to make those single-serving bottles takes hundreds of years to decompose. By 2050, reported one recent study, around 99 percent of seabirds will regularly ingest plastic (not to mention similar effects on other marine life).

If only there was a way to enjoy all the life-giving goodness of water without any of that unnecessary waste. The good news is there just might be: edible water bottles. 

Ooho! is a new product made by the London-based startup Skipping Rocks Lab, which recently crowdfunded over $1 million to take its product to market. The brainchild of Rodrigo García González, Pierre Paslier and Guillaume Couche, Ooho! began life back in 2012, while the three founders were attending Imperial College London. Several years of development later, the trio had created a prototype of their product, which is basically just a blob of water encased in an edible container made using seaweed. The beauty of their idea is that although it seems futuristic, the process for production is actually quite simple.

Similar to fake caviar or juice balls found in bubble tea, Ooho is made through a process called "spherification." The first step involves dipping frozen balls of water into a calcium chloride solution, helping to create the gelatinous layer around the liquid. From there, the ball is soaked in a solution of diluted brown algae extract. That extra layer is what helps to reinforce the structure of the edible container and ensure the liquid doesn’t leak out. And that’s about it: Simple, cheap (around 2 cents to make a pop) and completely biodegradable.

For all its pros, there are a few cons to this idea. For one, there’s the issue of packaging. The whole point of edible water bubbles is to create a form of hydration that is eco-friendly, but in order to realize that vision there still needs to be a way to transport the product that will keep the actual water bubbles clean, and prevent them from bursting. That’s not to mention once it finally gets into your hands and you’re left wondering how to consume the thing.

"At the end of the day, you don’t have to eat it," Ooho co-founder Paslier told the Guardian. "But the edible part shows how natural it is. People are really enthusiastic about the fact that you can create a material for packaging matter that is so harmless that you can eat it."

If you’re not so into the idea of popping a whole water globule into your mouth, Paslier continued, you can simply peel off the outer layer like you would a fruit.

“We are trying to follow the example set by nature for packaging,” he said in another interview with Fast Company, adding that the discarded layer can be composted, allowing the packaging to decompose within a few weeks.

Another possible issue Ooho may face is the size of the bubbles. People generally looking to quench their thirst may want more water than the amount found in a typical Ooho bubble. For this reason, Paslier explained, the first market they plan to target will be outdoor events such as festivals or marathons where there are lots of thirsty people. People who want to enjoy their water on-the-go will prove an ideal testing ground for Ooho, which plans to begin rolling out at major sporting events in 2018.

There is likely still a long way to go before edible water bubbles reach widespread use. The fact that a company has reached this stage should be viewed as a positive step toward reducing plastic waste. Now comes the hard part: adoption. If Ooho can gain ground among athletes, we’ll be a lot closer to seeing these globules in our everyday lives.

Until then, if you’re feeling curious, try making your own homemade version by following the instructions in the video below.

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