The havoc that plastic water bottles wreak on the environment has scientists increasingly turning towards more sustainable alternatives. These seemingly innocuous containers, half of which are used only once before being discarded, are known to clog oceans and water bodies, taking over 1,000 years to decompose. To overcome this, Iceland-based designer Ari Jónsson has crafted an innovative biodegradable water bottle using nothing but algae and water.
In the United States alone, nearly 35 billion plastic bottles are tossed out every year, resulting in major environmental repurcussions. While some scientists are listing the help of Styrofoam-digesting mealworms, there are others who believe plastic-eating bacteria could help end landfills. Jónsson’s efforts, however, are focused on elimating the problem right at the source. Speaking about his creation, the designer said:
I feel there is an urgent need to find ways to replace some of the unreal amount of plastic we make, use, and throw away every day. Why are we using materials that take hundreds of years to break down in nature to drink from once and then throw away?
As Jónsson points out, the sustainable water bottles are carefully fashioned out of agar, a substance derived from algae. Used chiefly as a vegan substitute for gelatin in desserts across Asia, agar was first discovered back in 1650s when Mino Tarōzaemon, an innkeeper in Japan, found discarded seaweed soup to have gelled together after a cold winter night. Later in the 1800s, it was examined in microbiology labs, where it is still used for its ability to separate molecules.
To create the biodegradable water bottle, Jónsson first mixes powdered agar and water, heating the resultant jelly-like mixture and then pouring it into cold molds. The molds are in turn swirled around inside special containers filled with ice water, until shaped into bottles. The final products require only a few minutes of refrigeration before they can be used. Like the plastic versions, the algae-based bottles are capable of retaining their form when empty.
Over time, however, they begin to break down naturally through the process of biodegradation. In addition to its obvious environmental advantages over plastic, these bottles are completely edible, although it does have a taste that many might find unsavory. Currently a student at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, Jónsson unveiled the product at the recent DesignMarch, held in the capital city of Reykjavik.