Well, I might be opening a can of worms here but even worms deserve to be free, so here goes, strap yourselves in for a ride with me through the evolution of the sustainable water bottle, or maybe more appropriately the materials they are made from. I know, you just wet yourself, it must be all that water you’re drinking out of your reusable, sustainable water bottle? I hope for your sake that it’s a Yuhme?
Sustainability is the word of the moment
For something to be labelled ‘sustainable’ is the Wholly Grail for a product but sustainability is a complex issue that has many more sides than you would believe. It also depends upon each person’s perspective, let me give you an example. My mate DeShawn loves the sea, he grew up on the sun-kissed coast of Malibu, Cali (what the cool kids call California.) and he’s a big-time surfer, you could say that the sea is like oxygen to him. He despairs of the state of our oceans and sees plastic pollution as the single biggest environmental problem, as a result he lives a plastic-free life. He even flosses his teeth with bespoke made mahogany floss picks, you have got to have good teeth in Cali, don’t you know. I’ve got another urhhh, friend called, Axel? He’s really into science, so much so that he’s a carpenter?! Well forget about that part, my point is this guy is always looking at the latest materials and innovations to use in his start-up water bottle company?! He looks at everything from a CO2 output because, in his eyes, Climate Change is the biggest environmental problem that faces his generation and the World. By the way Alex, sorry Axel drives a Prius he can't afford a Tesla, don’t judge him!
My point here is that things that are sustainable to Deshawn such as biodegradable products because they break down hopefully before they get to the ocean or even worse in the ocean (we’re not there yet!), are not necessarily the same as they are to Axel who doesn’t, in most cases, see biodegradable products as sustainable because the material they are made from cannot be reused to produce more products. As a result you need to produce more material. Two different perspectives and two different interpretations of the word sustainable, always bare this in mind when this word enters the conversation. Anyway, Back to the topic of conversation.
The evolution of the sustainable water bottle.
Here at Yuhme, we produce what we think is the World’s most sustainable water bottle with a purpose and here is why, we produce our bottle from a renewable resource, sugarcane that is naturally irrigated in Brazil, the World’s largest sugarcane producer. The process to produce our bio-plastic is CO2 negative, that is to say that to produce the bioplastic pellets and ship them to Sweden CO2 has been used up when you take into account the growing of the sugarcane, and the burning of the bagasse (left-over sugarcane) to create steam to produce electricity. This Electricity runs the production facility as well as feeding excess electricity back into the grid in Brazil. For every tonne of bioplastic produced, 2.3 tonnes of CO2 are used up! Pretty cool hey? Why is too much CO2 bad one can wonder? CO2 is a greenhouse gas and essentially traps heat close to the Earth to hold onto some of the energy that the Earth gets from the sun. Too much CO2 makes the temperature of the Earth rise which in turn leads to a bunch of not so good circumstances.
To give you something to compare to- this is how much CO2 other materials ADD to the air:
Oil-based plastic +2.4 tons/ per ton produced
Stainless steel +2.9 tons/ per ton produced
Virgin Glass +4.1 tons/per ton produced
Aluminium + 5.3 tons/per ton produced
PLA (Polylactic Acid) +0.5 tons/per ton produced
So, water is pretty important to us humans as you can go pretty long without food, Ghandi did 21 days of starvation but with water, or more to the point without water, you can survive only 3-4 days depending on the conditions. Therefore, since the beginning of our time on this Earth the whereabouts, transportation and drinking of water has been a major preoccupation for us. I know you all want to know which sustainable water bottle Jesus was drinking out of? Unfortunately, this is nothing I can divulge for the main reason that I don’t know, but if he was here right now I’m pretty sure he’d have a Yuhme water bottle. He definitely would need one seeing as his main party trick was turning water into wine.
A history recap of the sustainable water bottle
In order to find the forerunners of today’s water bottles we don’t have to go so far back in time, only about 70 years to a post WWII Europe. Pre war, reusable water bottles were made mainly of glass, stainless steel and aluminium but post war another material that is a hot topic for discussion today appeared. That’s right you guessed it, plastic. During the war years plastic production tripled in the U.S. to cater for such things as cockpit windows, mortar fuses, helmet liners, goggles, raincoats, waterproof tents, parachutes, color-coded electrical wiring, and parts for the atom bomb. But post-war the biggest challenge was bringing plastic into commercial markets, in terms of sustainable water bottles this wasn’t really achieved till the 1960s when polyethylene was introduced into the marketplace. The meteoric rise of plastics as a whole though was well and truly cemented by 1960 in the U.S. and had seen a growth rate of 15% in those post war years, four times that of steel.
When we look at the reusable water bottle industry today it is still those four main materials that make it up, plastic, glass, aluminium and stainless steel it’s just that the production of the materials and bottle styles have evolved. You have bioplastic produced from sugarcane (my personal favourite, not biased in any way.), triple-walled stainless steel bottles and glass bottles in a protective silicone sleeve (not sure how innovative this is?). Chances are that all of you reading this have at least one of those, if not in front of you somewhere in your house but just how sustainable is that water bottle? When looking at sustainability you have to look at the whole cycle of the product, so from production through to end of life and everything in between.
If i take polyethylene plastic that is produced from oil, plastic production as a whole stands at over 300m tons per year and requires 4% of the total oil production annually. It has a CO2 output of +2.4tons/per ton of product produced. Recyclable up to a minimum of 5 times.
Now let’s look at Green Polyethylene produced from a renewable resource, sugarcane, has a negative CO2 footprint of -2.4tons/per ton of material produced. Recyclable up to a minimum of 5 times.
Stainless Steel has a large CO2 footprint when you consider the mining aspect. It is not a renewable resource and is reliant upon coal in the production process. Estimates put our coal reserves at somewhere between 110-150 years, if this is the case then steel production is going to have to evolve in some other way. It is limitlessly recyclable, however, and most stainless steel contains at least 60% recycled material. It has a CO2 output of 2.9tons/per ton material produced.
Glass has an even higher CO2 output but can cut this by up to 4 times by using recycled material. Glass is very heavy to transport as well as fragile. It is maybe not the most ideal material for a water bottle on the go. It has a CO2 output of +4.1 tons/per ton material produced. It is infinitely recyclable.
Aluminium has the highest CO2 output of all the materials due to the intense heat needed to melt it in Arc furnaces. It is however infinitely recyclable but the metal is quite soft and can dent easily.
As you see, every material has its positives and negatives and then we need to take into account what part of the world you live in. Not all countries recycle the same, check out the infogram below that shows the best recyclers.
Whatever material you are recycling the worst thing that can happen is that it ends up in landfill. In a landfill all materials breakdown in the absence of oxygen and thus produce methane, a greehouse gas that traps 100 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide within a 5 year period, and 72 times more within a 20 year period.
As Bill Gates wrote on a recent linkedin article,
“To prevent the worst effects of climate change, we need to get to zero net greenhouse gas emissions in every sector of the economy within 50 years-and as the IPCC recently found, we need to be on a path to doing it in the next 10 years.”
Methane that hangs in the atmosphere over a 20 year period is obviously a big hindrance to us reaching those targets.
It’s pretty hard to leave this blog post without mentioning plastic pollution and my mate Deshawn in Cali again. There is no doubt that plastic pollution is a real problem in the oceans and in general, our love affair with plastic is in many ways justifiable when you take into account all the great progress we’ve made thanks to plastic. But this must be balanced against the increasing negative effects of not plastic but our disposal of it. We have mass produced all types of products from plastic but we as humans have not disposed of it in the correct way. I know this is maybe hard for us to accept but it’s not like plastic has a natural affinity for water, it doesn’t automatically gravitate towards it like Newton’s Apple to the ground.
The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch organization started by a young entrepreneur named Boyan Slat has conducted some of the most thorough research into the make-up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. With in the area they researched they collected 1,136,145 pieces of debris of 99.9% were plastic From this the researchers estimated that there were 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the water of which 92%is made up of larger pieces of plastic, defined as over 0.5cm. But interestingly they estimated that over 46% of the mass was from the fishing industry and mainly fishing nets known as “Ghost nets”. I know that there is a lot of estimation in this research but it can’t be disputed that the problem is huge and that instead of burying our heads in the sand we need a systematic and scientific solution to solve the mess we've got ourselves into and that maybe needs to start with the fishing industry. As my father used to say (a retired doctor), all too often we treat the symptom and not the cause and this is probably the case here and unfortunately it's us who are the cause, plastic is just the symptom.
So, what does the future hold for the sustainable water bottle market?
Is there a unicorn material out there that will save us all? Probably not, but I can see a future where mobiles and water bottles are linked, or is that synced? Or possibly water bottles that can produce their own energy?! If, you keep an eye on Yuhme you might well see some development there, he says without trying to give too much away. Something that is more innovative than a bottle that flashes when you need to drink, I’m pretty sure that you’re body has a built in mechanism that tells you when you are thirsty, the only thing that is difficult to distinguish is if your body is thirsty for water or beer, as my friends say it’s always buyer’s choice.
Ok, Alex or should I call you Axel? This is all very interesting but I wanted to read a blog post on sustainable water bottles? Alright, granted I’ve probably gone off on a little bit of a tangent, as any maths teacher would say, but my argument is it’s all related, or should I say connected. Our environment is a representation of us as a society, same as the things we purchase are a representation of me and you as people. In a World where no one has time and the problems are so all encompassing that they only create apathy, now is the time to take a step back and look at where we want to go as individuals and humanity. The clock ticks on and every second that ticks by is consigned to a history that will not look favourably upon the generation that apathetically stood by and watched when they could and should of done something other than carry on in the same direction. We are trying and we are improving, great accomplishments and strides have already been made but this will take all of us if we are not to leave a broken planet to our children and grandchildren.
Be aware, be Yuhme.
By Alex Nash, Co-founder Yuhme
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