Instead of filling up your empty water bottle at any available fountain or faucet, what if you could pay a vending machine to do it for you? That’s the promise of Watermill, a Texas-based chain of vending machines that dispense filtered water in exchange for cash money.
The vending stations are drive-in, and dispense water into your own container. You can even choose to have the water carbonated, which is actually a pretty neat idea, and some stations now dispense ice.
On of the things I notice when I visit the U.S is that there are water fountains everywhere. It seems like public space isn’t a public space without one, which makes the existence of a paid option somewhat inexplicable. I asked Watermill co-founder Lani Dolifka who actually uses the machines. “Many of our locations are in lower to middle income areas where there are budget conscious clientele and their options would be few and far between if it weren’t for our service,” says Dolifka. “Not everyone can afford to buy bottled water or have a water delivery service, but everyone needs access to safe, affordable pure drinking water.”
The catch is that everyone does have access to safe and affordable drinking water. They just have to turn on a faucet. In fact, the Watermill kiosks “start with state or federally approved water,” and then apply a battery of extra filtration and cleaning. And it seems that this is enough to get many users to pay for an otherwise free resource.
Why? Cleanliness. According to Itay Zamir, founder of another water vending machine company, Woosh, thinks that people perceive public water fountains as dirty. His company, though, operates in Tel Aviv. The tap water tastes great there, but there isn’t a network of public faucets, so filling stations are a great alternative to bottled water.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter that Texans prefer to pay for their free water though. After all, at least they’re not buying bottled water. “Our customers are being green and environmentally conscious simply by changing their water buying habits,” says Dolifka. “They’re now buying a better product in a better way and saving millions of single-use plastic bottles from being thrown away each year.