Ooho: The Eco-Friendly Substitute to Plastic Bottles

Ooho: The Eco-Friendly Substitute to Plastic Bottles

By Rebecca Alexander

It is an established fact that plastic bottles made of synthetic polymers harm the environment. These packaged plastic bottles not only take long to degrade (about 450 years) but are also difficult to recycle because of contamination by food for example. Ever wondered why plastic water bottles have an expiry date printed on them? Does the water go bad? Actually, no! The expiry date is for the water bottles. Beyond the expiry date, chemicals from the plastic bottle could potentially change the taste and quality of the water contained. These are main drawbacks of the plastic packaging materials that we currently use.

An innovative sustainable packaging start-up based in London, Skipping Rocks Lab, aims to address the above-mentioned environmental issue by replacing plastic packages with natural biodegradable materials. Their first product Ooho, a transparent biodegradable material, is a step in this direction.

What’s the Idea Behind Biodegradable Bottles?

The scientific team of Skipping Rocks Lab is based in Imperial College and is part of the Climate KIC start-up acceleration program founded by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT). Their main aim is to develop a material with low environmental impact from plant and seaweeds. Skipping Rocks Lab’s first product Ooho is a spherical flexible package that can contain water and liquids like soft drinks, spirits and cosmetics. This biodegradable, edible and pocket-friendly replacement of plastic is mainly created from calcium chloride and sodium alginate, a seaweed derivative.

Basically, a frozen blob of water is coated with a double-membraned transparent material consisting of calcium chloride and the seaweed derivative. The designer of Ooho, Pierre Paslier, considers his innovative product to be a man-made fruit where a naturally-developed double membrane carries water. Similar to an orange, a denser skin can hold smaller spherical packages to contain more amount of water/liquid.

The Environmental Benefits of Ooho

As reported on the website of Skipping Rocks Lab, around 1 billion plastic bottles reach the ocean every year, contributing to the emission of about 300 million kg of CO2. This increasing demand for plastic bottles and its harmful effects on the environment signal an urgent need for alternatives. Ooho has surely found a supporter in Ian Ellerington, Director of Science and Innovation at the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, who said in an article that Ooho offers a good alternative packaging with potential applications across different products considering the high demand for packaging water and other products. What’s more? It is cheaper than its plastic counterpart and its manufacturing cost is estimated at 1 cent per unit.

Given its potential impact, it comes as no surprise that the Skipping Rocks Lab has won numerous accolades. Its efforts have been well appreciated as evidenced by the 2016 UK Energy Globe Award, the 2015 SEA Award, the 2014 Lexus Design Award and the 2014 World Technology Award (environment) held in association with Fortune and TIME.

What’s Next?

Development of a fully-automated machine to manufacture Ooho is underway and meanwhile, it is sold only at special events. Nevertheless, this innovative replacement of plastic bottles offers a cheap climate-friendly way of carrying water and other fluids. Whether one chooses to consume the spherical Ooho package or not, it is impressive to see that the packaging is in fact edible and biodegradable, just like a fruit. Moreover, Ooho can be flavoured and coloured as per requirement. Although there are some obvious hiccups (like limited shelf-life and delicate nature of Ooho) that could prevent immediate widespread acceptance, gulping down these issues with targeted research can win over the masses. Practically speaking, large-scale acceptance of Ooho will significantly reduce harmful emissions and greatly benefit the environment. Here’s hoping this edible substitute paves the way to lowering plastic waste!

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