Swedish start-up reduces use of plastic bottles with new drinking water system in UAE

Wayout, which has launched a treatment plant in Dubai, will distribute metal kegs to be mounted on dispensers

The Wayout filtration system uses a 12-step process to treat water, avoiding plastic entirely. Photo: Wayout
Powered by automated translation

Water is most frequently served in plastic bottles, which is potentially problematic for personal and planetary health.

Wayout, a company founded in Stockholm in 2018 by entrepreneurs Martin Renck and Ulf Stenerhag, is aiming to enable hotels, restaurants, schools and hospitals, and eventually communities, to produce fresh mineral water locally and reduce a reliance on plastic bottles for its distribution and consumption.

On Tuesday, the company launched its first showroom in the UAE, in Dubai's Alserkal Avenue, where its container-style water-treatment facility is housed.

It uses a 12-step process to treat the water, using techniques such as sand filtration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection. The micro-factory not only cleans the water, but also remineralises it, the founders explain.

“People don't know what perfect drinking water is,” Renck tells The National. “We're drinking water in plastic bottles with microplastics in it. We're drinking home-filtered water with bacterial growth. We're missing out on a lot of the important minerals.”

Wayout can produce up to 20,000 litres of clean water in a day, which, according to Renck, is enough to meet the daily demands of 10,000 people. The clean water is transferred into metallic kegs as an alternative to plastic bottles and then delivered to customers to be mounted on dispensers.

The problem with plastic

According to the UN Environment Programme, one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute globally. In the UAE, each individual consumes an average of 450 bottles of water per year, according to Dr Rahaf Ajaj, an assistant professor of environment, health and safety at Abu Dhabi University.

This has pushed government bodies in the Emirates to launch several initiatives, including the Dubai Can campaign to encourage residents to use refillable water bottles. Wayout estimates its production capacity can prevent the use of up to 13 million plastic bottles annually.

Aside from the environmental impact of plastic bottles, storing water in them has also been criticised as a health risk. Studies have shown that harmful chemicals from plastics can leach into the water if a bottle is exposed to heat or if water is stored in a bottle for long periods.

Scarcity and innovation

Wayout’s technology is also useful for areas bereft of potable water sources.

In 2021, the company installed one of its Wayout Pods in the northern Serengeti in Tanzania, where safe drinking water is scarce.

The same urgency does not necessarily exist in the UAE, however, Sheikh Majid Al Qassimi, founder of sustainability consultancy Soma Mater and a former government adviser, says there is a dangerous assumption that drinking water is “always available”.

“The truth is, it takes a lot to get drinking water that is clean and available at all times,” he tells The National.

Al Qassimi says innovators such as Wayout are crucial in creatively thinking of ways to remind people to be more conscious of their relationship with water.

“The hardest part for governments and industries is to change people's behaviour and there are a number of different ways to go about it. We need to bring the challenge to everybody's attention.”

Updated: May 11, 2023, 7:00 AM