The latest innovation in the fight against plastic water bottles comes in the form of an edible and flexible water “blob” container called the Ooho!, made by startup Skipping Rocks Lab. To use it, consumers can bite the blob and suck out the contents or eat the entire thing, casing and all.
Asking people to carry around their own water bottles and containers has had limited success; unfortunately, it is often just more convenient to buy and drink from a disposable container. The Ooho! claims to offer that convenience without introducing more plastic into the waste stream.
The gel itself is made from a mixture of brown algae and calcium chloride, but you don't actually have to eat it. "You can just throw it away," González told Wired, "it's entirely biodegradable."
Skipping Rocks has released the design for the Ooho! under a creative commons license, inviting input from enterprising experts. There are several design flaws that Skipping Rocks is hoping these experts can help solve. Inspired by egg-yolks, the blobs are double-walled and can hold up to one liter of water, but remain quite fragile and need be able to withstand transport in difficult conditions. Additionally, the lab would like to find a way to make them resealable.
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According to González, the strength of the membrane is "similar to the skin of a fruit" and it can be made thicker or thinner to suit. "I've made some so thick that you can even bounce them," he said.
And it’s not just for people with industrial equipment: The team calls the process “CIY” (“cook it yourself”), and it uses an existing technique known as “spherification” borrowed from the culinary industry, where it was first used to make tiny fake caviar in the 1950s. Alternating baths of calcium chloride and algae, as well as plastic molds, help the blobs conform to a round shape.
The company’s lab is part of the Climate KIC acceleration program founded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The Ooho! won the 2014 Lexus Design Award and is nominated for 2015’s “Design to Improve Life” competition.
A number of recent innovations in biobased alternatives to plastic include that made from shrimp shells, tomato skins, and agricultural and paper waste. However, there has also been debate around the viability of additives used to make plastics biodegradable, as well as the long-term viability of bioplastics vs. durable plastics.