Plastics are the ubiquitous workhorse material of the modern economy. Their use has increased 20-fold in the past half century, and production of plastics is expected to double again in the next 20 years.
According to Eco Watch, the average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic every year. In total, we toss out 35 billion plastic water bottles annually. And it takes anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years for this plastic to break down.
To that end, Ari Jonsson, a 32-year-old product design student at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, designed an all-natural water bottle that is biodegradable. The algae-based bottle holds its shape when full, and decomposes when empty. It’s made using only two ingredients: agar, which is a gelatinous material that comes from red algae, and water.
In order to turn these two simple ingredients into a bottle, Jonsson combines them, heats the mixture, pours it into a mold, and cools it down quickly. The end product is a firm bottle – but it only remains that way when filled with water.
When the bottle is emptied, it begins to break down. It rots and goes bad just like food does. The bottle takes only one week to significantly shrink down, and Jonsson says it will sustainably decompose in soil – but he hasn’t yet determined how long that process takes.
Jonsson still has a significant hurdle to cross. The bottle is not yet portable because it doesn’t have a biodegradable cap. Jonsson is connecting with experts in order to further develop this bottle.
Innovators around the world are trying to find ways to repurpose plastics. But if this bottle can be mass-produced, it could replace plastic bottles altogether. Using more biodegradable and eco-friendly materials will help reduce our global addiction to plastic.
Photo, posted October 23, 2010, courtesy of Kate Ter Haar via Flickr.