Drop Water — Tackling the Water Bottle With Industrial Design
Fixing the Plastic Waste Problem One Drop at a Time
A novel production and distribution model for bottled drinks
2018 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Silver Prize Winner
Menlo Park, CA
Scott Edwards started Drop Water with an ambitious mission: help solve the world’s plastic waste problem. “Our mission is to create a new method for making beverages that doesn’t include sacrificing our environment,” said Scott.
He developed the business idea as part of his senior project at Cal Poly. “That’s where I thought there needs to be a better way,” said Scott. “If we are going to be producing bottles like this for the next 10 to 20 years, it’s going to be a problem.”
The Drop Water machine is similar in size to a traditional vending machine and uses a touch-screen interface that allows users to customize their drinks. Scott said they tested close to 150 flavors in their lab before determining the five used in the kiosk. “There’s a huge novel advantage for this product because people get really, really excited about customizing their drinks,” said Scott.
The kiosk autonomously filters local tap water and bottles drinks in seconds onsite, enabling sustainable packaging, custom drinks and a machine capacity four times greater than a standard vending machine.
A major part of making the business viable was developing unique compostable bottles. Scott said they probably considered 50 different designs. “I knew what materials we should use,” said Scott. “There are a few different commercially available polymers that are injection moldable; I knew we had to use those, and I wanted to use paper to create the rigid body.” After much experimentation, they settled on a bag-in-a-box design. The outer shell could be folded flat and then popped open.
The design printed on the outer packaging will be customized based on the location the water is sold. For example, if the kiosk is in an aquarium, the shell of the container might share facts about the sea. “We can offer specific branding or messages as well,” said Scott, “to get specific messages to targeted consumers.”
This Drop Water concept dramatically improves on the cost and carbon footprint that is required to ship pre-filled plastic water bottles. In fact, Scott expects to see a reduction in energy use for transportation by 95 percent. “Water is so heavy that moving it across the country can be very expensive,” said Scott. “The public is still choosing to buy water from large bottlers or from halfway around the world when there is good water all around us across the United States that is certified safe.”
Drop Water also reduces waste, as there is no plastic water bottle to send to a landfill. “A normal bottle is designed to be extremely strong, light and cheap,” said Scott. “If it is mismanaged and goes into the ocean, it degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, but it is a sponge for toxins. These materials enter the food chain, and we don’t even know the full effect of this long term.”
Currently, Drop Water has trial versions of the machines to showcase the technology, and they just reached an agreement to launch at an international airport. “We are very excited; this is the best market for the technology,” said Scott. The machine would be placed inside the security check, after people must throw away their bottles.
“We have been heads down in research and development for a long time, and now it’s time to get it into the field,” said Scott. “We are trying to find places to do trials, place our machines, sell bottles and get real revenue in the door.” They are continuing to look for high-traffic locations to launch that can drive high demand. “Right now, we are reaching out to all the places we think are best — sports arenas, college campuses,” Scott said.
The company plans to spend their FedEx Small Business Grant Contest prize money on the airport launch, printing custom bottle shells. “This grant’s going to help a lot,” said Scott. “It’s going to pay for the bottles that we’re going to be selling in the coming quarters.”
When thinking about what’s next, Scott said he wants to get his kiosks to as many people as possible. “I like to look into the future many, many years — decades or centuries from now — and I like to critically think about what it would look like. I want the future to look positive, healthy and worth living.”
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