Every year between eight and 12 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean – and it’s a figure that is steadily rising. By 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the sea, according to a joint World Economic Forum and Ellen MacCarthur Foundation report.
As it breaks up into ever-smaller pieces, some of the plastic sinks to the bottom of the seabed where it is thought to be creating horrors that have yet to fully be understood. Meanwhile, billions of other pieces end up being ingested by marine animals with catastrophic consequences.
From being entangled in the plastic, and eating fishing lines and other debris, up to 50 per cent of sea turtles end up eating it, mistaking it for food; millions of sea birds are dying after ingesting it and autopsies on whales performed after they’ve been washed up frequently show evidence of plastic in their stomachs.
Plastic containers account for 14 per cent of all that waste, and destruction, and it’s beyond ironic that the majority of that is plastic bottles that contain water.
We drink an estimated 100 billion gallons of bottled water worldwide every year. A recent report on Atlantic.com stated that 50 billion water bottles are produced annually in the US alone, and estimates suggest that 50 per cent of the time these will be discarded once the contents have been drunk.
Some people refill, which is obviously better for the environment, but there are just so many of these bottles and they can be so complex to recycle that many just end up in the trash. Plastic bottles take 400 years to degrade in the water but an investigation by Orb Media for The Guardian recently revealed that billions of us are drinking water contaminated with plastic particles, with 83 per cent of samples shown to be affected – showing just how widespread and dangerous this problem is.
Professor Roland Geyer from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study, said: ‘We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late.’
Already there are giant trash vortices or “gyres” that are dotted around the oceans. Here, trillions of pieces of junk – much of it plastic – forms a near-impenetrable “soup” that can span an area the size of Texas, or possibly far bigger, as they are near impossible to measure.
One alternative to plastic bottles is glass, which is more easily recycled, but it is heavy. What those in the know about recycling will tell you, though, is that a better option is aluminium: around 70 per cent of all aluminium that has been manufactured over the past 140 years is still in use, some of it having been recycled many times over. It has a value per tonne that is at least five times that of plastic, and it is lightweight, stackable and strong.
Wouldn’t it be great for the planet, then, if we started drinking our water from a recyclable can instead?
Step forward CanO Water – which is exactly what it says it is: a can of water with a re-sealable lid. Beautifully designed, it was handed out at the Oscars and London Fashion Week and everyone from singer Ellie Goulding to male supermodel David Gandy is a fan.
Created by three friends, Ariel Booker, Perry Alexander and Josh White, from London, who decided they needed to make a difference when Ariel told them about a ‘‘tropical paradise’’ holiday island in Thailand he’d visited which was blighted by plastic bottles, the idea is a simple one.
‘We wanted to come up with a realistic alternative,’ says Josh, 26. ‘What we set out do was bridge the gap so that it wouldn’t be a huge difference to change someone’s behavior from drinking water in a bottle to drinking water from a can. The fact is that people love to have water handy – in the car or when out and about in town, but we could see that plastic just wasn’t the answer.’
The three had already identified aluminium cans as the perfect vessel for their challenger brand because it is 100 per cent recyclable and can easily be turned into more cans, unlike plastic, which usually gets ‘downcycled’ into other products.
Put a Lid On It
They then found – in Germany being made by a company named XO – a lid which would enable people to sip and reseal – and refill with tap water, if they wanted to. ‘That’s when we knew we could have a fully functioning product. We got in contact with them quickly and built a really strong relationship.’
Surviving up until this point on £5,000 (AED 24,246) of savings that Josh had put aside from some DJ-ing gigs he’d done, the CanO Water inventors suddenly realised they would need some serious investment to take their product to market.
They had found a plant in Austria that could provide water from the Alps – so long as the three entrepreneurs could put in an order for at least 150,000 cans. Once they’d found a factory that could make their cans just a few miles away in Austria, they were in business.
With fortune clearly shining on them, they managed to see the buyers at luxury department store Selfridges just at a time that they were consciously making a move away from single-use plastic bottles.
Selfridges ordered several thousand cans, which hit the shelves in January 2016 and were such a hit with customers that they sold out within the first month.
Next it was a case of Josh, Perry, 30, and Ariel getting the word – and water – out to a wider audience, which some sizeable angel investment helped them to secure. But it’s still early days.
‘We sold just over 150,000 cans in the first year and this year we’re on track to do more than a million,’ says Josh, ‘and that’s fantastic. We’re working with some great stockists in China, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong, as well as across Europe, but we’re very realistic and know how much work the business needs to be successful.’
The CanO Water founders are keen to break into the US market, where cities, such as San Francisco have banned the sale of all plastic bottles under one litre.
To that end, the small team are weighing up offers from Venture Capitalist to help take them through the next phase of their journey.
‘There is potential there to sell hundreds of millions of cans,’ says Josh. ‘It’s all about changing people’s behaviour from bottle to can. We knew it would be a hard journey – we’re realists – but we look at ourselves as a solution to a huge global problem. We see ourselves as a forward-thinking brand that is a lot bigger than the three of us.’
But how can they be sure that CanO Water cans aren’t going to end up in the oceans, too? ‘It’s because a lot of cans do find their way into recycling plants,’ Josh explains. ‘If you look at America and see all these homeless people pushing trolleys of cans around, that’s because they can make money from it: aluminium is a commodity.’
The CanO Water cans are recycled so quickly that they are usually back on the shelf in as little as six weeks.
Though it’s been less than two years since launch, the CanO Water story has already enjoyed multiple highs.
‘We’ve done some amazing things,’ says Josh. ‘We’ve worked with The Duke of York when we were asked to provide the water for an event called Pitch@Palace. To get to that point, Ariel first delivered a crate of cans to Buckingham Palace!’
The trio also showcased the can to legendary naturalist and BBC TV star David Attenborough when they were the water sponsor at some of the Royal Geographical Society Conferences, in London and they rubbed shoulders with the Duchess of Cambridge, when she was at an ocean conservation event they were providing water for at the Natural History Museum in the English capital.
‘We’ve tried to get involved with everything we can that has anything to do with getting rid of plastic,’ says Josh. ‘It’s amazing to think that the three of us have created something that has so much potential.’
At present, the CanO Water founders realise that their contribution towards saving the planet is probably negligible – but they at least have a chance of making a difference.
‘If we’ve sold a million cans, we’ve stopped a million plastic bottles getting into circulation,’ says Josh. ‘Have we made a dent? No, because of the sheer size of the plastic problem, but the main thing is that we are working towards a future where any hotel, supermarket or retailer in the world can turn around and say, ‘You know what? We can now get rid of plastic bottles.’”
CanO Water comes in still and sparkling spring water and is £23.76 (AED 115) for a pack of 24. For more information visit CanOWater.com