Could edible, non-plastic drinking water bottles be on the way?

Every spring, the Reykjavik Design Festival in Iceland is awash with catchy new designs and ideas.

The festival presents ideas and innovations from a broad range of industries including architecture, food design, fashion and furniture.

Project are submitted by both local designers and globally known international designers alike.

A local student submitted one particular project this year that could sow the seeds for future developments in plastic water bottle production techniques.

Ari Jonsson, a student at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, says he read about the huge amounts of disposable plastic being thrown away each day, and felt compelled to try and develop a replacement that was far more environmentally sound.

He questioned why we're using drinking bottles just once and then throwing them away, despite the fact that they take hundreds of years to break down.

He says this led him to begin experimenting with a range of different materials in order to try and find a more sustainable alternative. During his quest, he came across a powdered substance made from algae called agar.

Agar - What is it?

So the story goes, agar was discovered around 1658 in Japan (where it's known as kanten) by an innkeeper who was said to have discarded some surplus seaweed soup and noticed that it formed a jelly-like substance after being frozen overnight in winter.

Used as an alternative to vegetable gelatin, it's still commonly found in Japanese cooking; typically in jellies, puddings and custards.

The bottle making process

Firstly, he made a bottle shaped mould which he put in the freezer. He then experimented by trying to get the right consistency of gel by mixing the agar powder with water. When he got what he thought was an ideal consistency, he gently heated it and poured into the frozen mould whilst submerging it in a bucket of cold water.

He slowly rotated the mould so that the gel began to form a coating on the inside. By doing this continually, all the gel had solidified in the shape of the mould. In order to extract the newly formed 'bottle', he placed the container in the fridge for a while to gently harden it before separating the two.

Shelf life

It's not clear what the ultimate shelf life of the bottle is, but Jonsson says that as long as it's full of water, it'll keep its shape and as soon as it's empty, the decomposition process will begin.

As the bottle is made from a natural ingredient, the water inside is safe to drink. For better or worse, he notes that one possible issue is that the water can absorb some of the taste of the bottle if it's left for too long. On the plus side, he suggests that if you like the taste, why not have a nibble on the bottle as well!

Crude but effective

It's easy to dismiss Ari's design project as a novelty with no real practical application in today's high production, massed produced world - and let's face it, some may say that it's not the prettiest thing to look at. However, it's worth noting that it's often this type of innovative thinking that can spawn other, more practical inventions that ultimately lead to a better, more sustainable world for us all to live in.

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