While scrolling through Poptron, I came across a company called The Watertree Project (Watertree) that sold herbal water bottles. It’s basically like milk cartons, but more like filtered water.
Their products target companies that want to reduce their dependence on plastic water bottles. For example, sports clubs and construction companies that provide disposable plastic water bottles for their staff on site.
To make it easier to understand, consider seminars, hotels, or car dealerships that offer customers the same plastic water bottles. Watertree’s goal is to essentially replace them with their recyclable water cartons as a practical approach to reducing a company’s carbon footprint and plastic waste.
The quick fix
To get a sense of the magnitude of this problem, Watertree co-founder and CEO Paul said single-use plastic bottle consumption in Malaysia is estimated at 11-12 million bottles per month.
And understanding the impact of plastic on ecosystems is not rocket science. Plastic is leached from landfills in our rivers, which feed into our oceans, where marine life absorbs microplastics, which humans then consume indirectly.
“Most NGOs are trying to deal with the consequences of plastic pollution, we are trying to stop it at the source,” Paul told Vulcan Post. The quickest approach to achieve this is to help large companies that use plastic water bottles switch to a more sustainable option. This also includes the provision of collection and recycling services, but more on that later.
Since launching in 2019, Watertree has convinced a number of companies to make the switch, which Paul finds encouraging. Some names include redONE, Allianz, Teknicast, MFE, ALKHAFI, and the Royal Malaysia Police Football Club (PDRM FC).
“All of them have senior executives who recognize their role as agents of change. This is an extremely positive indicator for our collective future, where businesses shoulder the burden of solving problems, not waiting for governments, ”said Paul.
Do the boxes not yet contain plastic?
Paul claimed that Watertree’s cartons are made from 75% paper, which naturally degrades even when buried. In order not to damage our forests, Tetrapak, the manufacturer of the product, sources paper from fast growing trees that have been planted specifically for paper production.
The plastic pod cap is also made from sugar cane, which generates less carbon emissions during production. However, there are still thin layers of plastic and aluminum foil inside the carton to retain water and prevent the paper from soaking.
“Our solution isn’t perfect, but it’s the best option we’ve seen to date,” Paul admitted. “Its manufacture has a much smaller carbon footprint than plastic, glass or metal. And even in a landfill, paper-based cartons are still 75% better than pure plastic solutions. “
To encourage companies to dispose of paperboard responsibly, Watertree and Tetrapak have created a closed-loop delivery, collection and recycling service.
Here’s how it works: Companies will collect emptied Watertree Pods from customers who have drunk water on site. Then, company staff will sort the boxes, compile them, and forward them to Watertree’s recycling department, who will deliver them to KPT, their recycling partner.
Paul assured that the boxes can in fact be recycled although they contain mixed materials. “KPT has created a convenient recycling process where they can capture the paper fibers from the packaging for use in high quality paper products such as industrial paper, cardboard, paper bags or notepads. “, He explained.
“They also capture the remaining plastic and aluminum and then create a new hybrid panel material that can be used to make a range of products (eg roof tiles and collection bins).”
Alternatively, customers can also cut the top of the cardboard and reuse the base for planting seedlings or other types of crafts.
We are not the complete solution for [the plastic waste] problem, but we can give people the opportunity to recognize the problem, make a small positive contribution (even removing 1 plastic bottle) and hopefully help them think of ways to adapt their style of life to include more responsible uses of plastic.
Co-founder and CEO of The Watertree Project, Paul Rogers.
There is a new problem
In 5 years, Paul is convinced that with the combined pressure from shareholders, NGOs, government and their customers, more companies will adopt plastic alternatives. Expressing the numbers, he said that in 5 years he would expect the number of single-use plastics to be less than 1 million per month, with the majority of the alternatives being truly recyclable containers.
On a related note, Paul added that single-use plastic water bottles were a big culprit in landfill storage in Malaysia when they started 2 years ago. Since then, the pandemic and its closures have facilitated a meteoric increase in disposable plastic food containers.
Therefore, they plan to expand their team to seek solutions to this problem. With companies like Circlepac already showing that it’s possible, we could see Watertree entering this space soon.
- You can read more about the Watertree project here.
- You can read other startups we’ve written about here.
Featured Image Credit: The Watertree Project