Bottled water has been a bugbear of the environmental movement for some time now. And yet, sales of the stuff keep rising. The U.S market was worth $13 billion in 2014.
Itay Zamir thinks one reason for bottled water’s continued growth is a lack of public filling stations. He reckons a lot of people who might be willing to carry their own bottle are put off by the idea of a standard fountain, because it looks sort of unhygienic, even if it isn’t really.
Zamir’s company, Woosh, is developing a private alternative: a fountain that strips municipal water of its nasty-tasting chlorine, incorporates its own ozone-based filtration system, chills water, and offers customers the opportunity to clean their bottles before refilling.
“We are aiming only at those people actually buying plastic bottles and we’re trying to convince them to change their behavior,” he says.
Based in Tel Aviv, Woosh has been running a pilot for the last 18 months in five locations in the city: in a park, downtown, in a residential neighborhood, on a boardwalk and on a beach. The park proved the most popular. The cost is about 50 cents per refill, which is obviously more expensive than a free public fountain, but about half the price of a bottle.
The filter inside the unit makes its own carbon trioxide from water, which is then used for the ozone treatment. Meanwhile, a display show how customers are reducing environmental impacts, for example in terms of CO2 that’s not produced from plastic manufacturing.
The unit may be a hard sell in places where bottled water is cheap and water fountains are ubiquitous. But then some cities, like San Francisco and Concord, Massachusetts, are banning bottles, which could open up a market. The National Park Service has also outlawed plastic bottles on some of its sites.
The bottled water industry claims that banning its product constitutes denial of a basic right and a threat to human health. But those claims are somewhat invalidated by the fact that bottled water used to be a lot less common than it is now. Back in 1976, according to industry figures, we drank only 1.6 liters of the stuff per person a year. Now our consumption is past 200 liters per person.
Woosh absorbs “most of” the cost of installing the machines, Zamir says, and it offers to maintain them using its own IT network. They can also be used as environmental sensor stations, says the entrepreneur, for instance recording air quality and temperature in their locations.