Water - the problem and a solution

With the People’s Design Lab now having been active for nearly 2 months many examples of bad and wasteful design have been submitted, with a few examples of what good design should look like and what the future might hold for the development of zero waste products. 

One of the first products submitted to the People’s Design Lab website was the ‘packed water glass’, nominated for the Russian Doll Award, an example of excess packaging taken to the extreme. The use of non-recyclable single use packaging for such a small amount of water epitomises the wasteful mentality many products are designed with. Where branding and product marketing play a far bigger role than any consideration for what happens next.

Fortunately there is already a simple solution to this type of product, and it is likely that many of you already use them on a daily basis. The reusable, refillable water bottle provides a waste free and cost-reducing alternative. Not only does this rule out the need for such a wasteful ‘packed water glass’, but also the countless single-use plastic water bottles that are used everyday. However at the moment there remain significant obstacles for the total elimination of single-use packaging for water. 

The majority of bottled water consumption on a pro-capita basis remains firmly in the Global North, with countries such as Italy, Germany, Spain and France all firmly in the top 10 Per Capita consumers. Furthermore many of the multinational bottled water companies are headquartered in Western countries, increasing our opportunity and ability to influence their marketing and expansion strategies. 

One example of the kind of problematic strategy pursued by bottled water companies is the Evian ‘Baby Bay’ marketing campaign. The campaign which promoted the use of disposable plastic water bottles on the beach was particularly problematic due to the fact that the use of such products on beaches increases the potential for plastic waste entering the oceans, an area of significant concern.

For many people who carry a refillable water bottle finding places to refill them can be difficult with some businesses being hostile to providing free refills of tap water and many cities devoid of public places to refill water bottles. Overcoming these hurdles would go a long way in reducing plastic bottle waste, and could be combined with additional extended producer responsibility (EPR) measures, such as deposit schemes where containers are reused leading to a reduction of single use packaging by producers

In France, a phone and web app  has been produced to help people find freely available water points. The app called ‘Eaupen’ can be used online or downloaded to your phone, and marks the nearest points where it is possible to refill your water bottle. These kind of innovations help to break down the barriers to greater use of refillable bottles.

The Global South is currently being targeted by the bottled water industry due to the ‘poor quality of potable water’ in many countries and the lack of safe drinking water in others, to deal an overwhelming blow to the bottled water industry we need to improve the quality of tap water in many areas. However, the disproportionate consumption of the Global North and the predominance of  Western corporations means that we can effectively tackle this scourge by setting the example for reusable water containers.

The single use glass of water is a product which should never have been designed in the first place, but in this case we are lucky: the solution already exists and it is something almost everyone can start using tomorrow. By using refillable water bottles, and calling for stronger EPR schemes we can help to move towards a zero waste future where single use packaging becomes a thing of the past. 

Many other products may need closer attention before a solution is found. That is why we need you to nominate your wasteful products for redesign on the website, so that together we can find zero waste solutions.