An engineer-staffed startup called Skipping Rocks Lab has developed a soft, biodegradable and edible packaging system for water that encases it in a transparent bubble made from seaweed. Their admirable aim is to do away with plastic packaging, and while it's generating a lot of buzz, there are a couple of important logistical questions that jumped out at us. Before we get to that, have a look at what they've come up with, which they call Ooho:
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The first thing we wondered was, how do they transport these? Current distribution infrastructure requires bottled liquids to be palletized, as shown at left. Each case of PET bottles is shrink-wrapped together to provide structure, and by then placing the bottle bottoms of the next layer directly over the caps of the layer beneath, enough strength exists that the layer on the bottom can support five layers above. How would Ooho's soft form survive shipping?
Then we wondered, how do they keep these clean during the process between bottling and drinking?
Thirdly the following claim had us scratching our heads: "Ooho sachets are flexible packets of water, drunk by tearing a hole and pouring into your mouth, or consumed whole." Let's look at that "tearing a hole" method from the UX perspective. I grab an Ooho bubble and decide I don't want to consume all of it. How do I tear it open and pour it into my mouth without spilling any? And then, what do I do with a torn-open bubble half-filled with water?
Skipping Labs answers (sort of) the first two questions, if not the third. Here's what they list as Ooho's benefits:
- It is 100% made of Plants & Seaweed
- Biodegradable in 4-6 weeks, just like a piece of fruit
- Edible, can be flavoured and coloured
- Fresh (shelf life of a few days)
- 5x less CO2, 9x less Energy vs PET
- Cheaper than plastic
If it's biodegradable in 4-6 weeks and the shelf life is "a few days," that indicates these aren't meant to come out of a bottling facility at all, but will presumably come out of a machine parked on-site at the facility where they are meant to be consumed. In its current form it will be relegated to events where people are happy to drink tap water and only need a shot of it at a time.
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Ooho is a neat development, but due to its form factor cannot replace the incumbent system just yet. Think of how we use plastic bottles: We throw them in our bag, we set them down at the gym, we bring them in the car to drink from while we drive, we tuck them in the seatback pocket during a long-haul flight. In order to use Ooho sachets in these settings would require another go-between piece of packaging that would perhaps defeat the original purpose.
That's not an insurmountable obstacle, but does require some design thinking. In any case, Skipping Rocks has successfully crowdfunded the next stage of Ooho's development, having raised £799,990 (USD $1 million) on a £400,000 target. We're very curious to see what comes next.