A team of enterprising engineers with a thirst to slash plastic waste have developed reusable water bottles that can be folded to fit in a pocket or a purse, or even repurposed for drinking tea.
The trio of Angela Lopez Blanco, 23, from Spain and her Emirati teammates, Amna Al Ali and Ruwayya Al Mehrzi attracted commercial interest for their designs, which aim to shake up the world's drinking habits.
Their project won the Ecothon Innovation Challenge, organised by sustainability specialists Masdar in collaboration with Nestlé, the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the Authority of Social Contribution – Ma’an.
Nestle has already expressed interest in bringing the innovative water bottles to market.
The first design from the group, working under the name Re, was the 'On the Go' bottle that can be easily folded to fit inside a purse or even a pocket.
“We got the idea after interviewing people from different backgrounds and realised that low-income people use a lot of reusable bottles,” said Ms Blanco, an electrical engineering student at the University of Wollongong in Dubai.
She said the primary reason for this may not have been to protect the environment, but the cost of regularly buying new bottles of water.
The team thought of developing a bottle that can be reused and is easy to carry around, to help people save money and the planet.
“This is especially useful for people on the go, like athletes and students; it is foldable and light and has a trendy design,” said Ms Blanco.
The bottle cap is designed to change colour if there is bacteria present in the water.
“Originally it would be transparent, but if the water contains bacteria it changes colour; this is particularly useful during the pandemic when people are concerned about hygiene,” she said.
The bottle is priced at Dh123, which Miss Blanco said was quite reasonable.
“It is a hygienic multi-purpose bottle that can last between two to three years, and the design is catchy.”
This particular bottle caught the attention of Nestle, who are currently discussing producing a prototype.
Their second bottle, Chillax, is not only reusable but can expand in size from 300ml to 500ml.
Their third design, the Afternoon bottle, can be used to drink water and as a tea bag.
“It is made of recycled cardboard and will have tea [leaves] embedded in it, so once your drink the water inside, you can take the outer part of the bottle, put hot water inside and dip the tea leaves in it,” said Ms Blanco.
There are enough tea leaves for two refills.
“It is like an edible bottle.”
With just three members, RE were the smallest team in the competition but they had enough bright ideas to make their mark.
“We were supposed to be 11 members, but then nobody [else] was interested and it became just the three of us,” said Ms Blanco.
“We were given the option to join other teams, but we decided that we could do it on our own, and we won.”
A recycling revolution
Another project to make the final of the competition is looking to make household recycling a whole lot easier.
Team Waa’i – which means awareness in Arabic - designed an app that can deliver recyclable waste containers to people’s homes.
“People can download the app, enter their location details and we will send them a container to put their plastic and recyclable waste in,” said Mariam Al Maazmi, an employee at the Ministry of Human Resources.
“After some time we pick up the container and deliver it to a waste recycling facility or anyone who is interested in recycling it.
“We would also collaborate with eco-friendly companies to help introduce the project,” said the 24-year-old Emirati.
Ms Al Maazmi and her teammates Ahmed Al Ameri, Farah Ali, Mohammed Al Ameri and Sombul Munshi, came up with the idea after they realised that they all faced the same problem in their daily lives: the lack of an easy solution to recycle household waste.
“We agreed that it was an issue that could be easily solved,” she said.
The team hope to work with environmental authorities in each emirate to launch the app nationwide.