If you push down on certain points on the new reusable water bottle called the Origami Bottle, the container collapses, folding up so it can easily fit in your bag or even squeeze inside your pocket. The design makes use of a unique geometrical structure that’s sturdy when unfolded—and holds 25 ounces of water—but quickly transforms when empty, with the aim of helping reusable packaging compete with single-use plastic.
“People change their behavior only when they have a real alternative that is as convenient as their current habits,” says Radina Popova, cofounder of DiFold, the startup behind the bottle. In surveys, consumers told the startup that the amount of space that typical reusable bottles take up in a bag was one of the main reasons that they didn’t like using them.
Cofounder Petar Zaharinov, an architect, had previously used transformable structures in architecture and furniture. While experimenting with kirigami, a variation of origami, he discovered a new method of folding that could create a strong but collapsible cylinder. “What makes the structures so stable in an unfolded state is the geometrical pattern,” he says. The design also makes it possible to make the collapsed form even smaller than some other transformable containers. Working with Popova, he started to explore how it could be used for a bottle.
Made from a food-safe, BPA-free material called Arnitel Eco (which is made in part from plants), the bottle can be used repeatedly for at least five years and can then be recycled in a closed loop. The startup recognizes that the design alone can’t solve the plastic bottle problem—water fountains and refill stations have to be as ubiquitous as plastic water bottles, and consumers have to know that local tap water is safe to drink. Now, refill infrastructure also has to take COVID-19 into account. “Providing refill facilities in-store for customers to fill up their bottles is gaining traction because retailers want to demonstrate their environmental commitments, but now, with the world entering into this ‘new normal,’ stores need to consider a number of other things in order to provide such services safely,” Popova says.
Similar foldable containers could also be used in refill systems like Loop, a service that sells everyday products like shampoo in packaging that it later takes back, cleans, and reuses. Right now, sending back packaging generates about half of the service’s emissions. Collapsible packaging would take less space and weigh less when it’s shipped, helping to shrink that footprint. Origami-style packaging can also be designed to be squeezable, making it easier to use with some products.
The foldable design could help accelerate the mass adoption of reusable packaging, which signs show is already underway. Brands are feeling increasing pressure to deal with the problem of single-use packaging waste. Large corporations, like Nestle, are beginning to test in-store refill systems and participate in programs like Loop. As China stopped accepting low-value plastics, communities around the rest of the world are looking for solutions for broken recycling systems. An increasing number of consumers don’t want to buy products in single-use packaging if they can avoid it. “Creating even more awareness about the consequences of single-use among the general public and strengthening regulations would force brands and retailers to move faster and introduce new reuse-refill shopping models,” Popova says.