Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bottle this

It’s recycling day in south-northern Davis. I just discovered this completely useless factoid during a run, and I have evidence to prove it: I hurdled seven discarded plastic water bottles surrounding their former homes (recycling bins).

The bottles conjured two What ifs?

First, waste: Recycling plastic bottles is an example of doing less of bad. (FYI, check out this post, Coke's Message in a Bottle, assessing The Coca-Cola Company's goal "to recycle or reuse all the plastic bottles we use in the U.S. market".) Several – hundreds – of billions park in landfills and progress through recycling centers each year, let alone scour street corners and pollute oceans. What if you could create a biodegradable bottle? Or, develop a solution to satisfy the convenient, portable, at-your-lips thirst of consumers? Calling all materials scientists for a remedy.

Second, the bottled water biz. I met with two Sacramento Entrepreneurship Academy grads this morning to learn more about their startup. Great concept with some tread of its tires. It beckoned bygone presentations to the Academy where I would ask students: What if, say 15-to-20 years ago, you shopped a business plan with a simple idea: We’re going to put water in bottles and sell it at price points approaching soft drinks. Imagine the chortles from fat-headed VCs; you're going to do what?

I dug up the below excerpt from Who Has Time for This?, a VC’s blog. Therein the author relays his experience with Penn Jilette (of "Penn & Teller"), specifically his “Bullshit” performance wherein he debunks superstitions of all kinds, exposing how easy it is to scam people.

... my warm sense of intellectual superiority yielded to naked shame as I saw myself in the victims of the Bottled Water craze. I watched a cast member, posing as a "water steward" in a California restaurant, present the patrons leather-bound menus from which to select waters bottled in Alaska, the Sierras, the Swiss Alps, and Antarctica. As the patrons sampled the various vintages, they readily celebrated the properties of each water--the crisp Alaskan glacier, the sweet taste of France, and the smooth Sierra rainfall. The camera then filmed the kitchen, where the steward filled all the glasses from a garden hose.

I learned that bottled water is a good idea when traveling overseas, but it's a $22 billion scam in the US. It costs anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times the cost of tap water. Unlike tap water, there is virtually no enforcement of health and cleanliness standards, nor is there flouride to prevent tooth decay. The healthiest bottled waters are bottled from tap. And the bottles themselves pose an environmental disaster.

Post-script (17 Nov. 07): Interesting post here about biodegradable milk bottles. A start?

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