/ Food & Drink, Sustainability

Could this biodegradable bottle help tackle the plastic crisis?

The 100% biodegradable Choose Water bottle reportedly decomposes within three weeks, so could it be the solution to our plastic water bottle problem? Here, in a guest post, Choose Water’s founder and director, James Longcroft, explains more…

Even if you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ll have seen the damage that plastic is causing to the environment. Microplastics in the oceans, plastic bottles clogging up landfill and even bags at the deepest part of the ocean – plastic is everywhere.

Plastic isn’t a bad material; it isn’t harming the planet on purpose. In fact, it’s a great material. Too good, really – it keeps doing its job for centuries. It’s our fault that we’re in this mess, having failed to managed plastic waste properly. So we have to do something to change it.

Plastic problem

In 2016, I set up a charitable bottled water company called Choose Water – we donate 100% of our profit to Water For Africa to provide clean water to those who need it most.

But about a year ago, we realised that our plastic bottles, while helping provide clean drinking water in West Africa, were having a huge impact on the environment. We decided we didn’t want to be part of the problem anymore, we wanted to fix it.

The solution we came up with is a new paper-based bottle that has zero impact on the environment.

It is formed of two distinct sections: the outer casing – made completely from recycled office paper, which is vacuum moulded into the hollow bottle shape; and the inner liner – the liner is key, we needed to keep the water inside the bottle and keep it fresh.

We can’t say exactly how we make it, that’s our little secret. What we can say is it is made from 100% biodegradable materials and they are all sustainably sourced, so no fossil fuels here.

Bottle breakdown

When submerged in water or landfill, the paper layer starts to decompose followed by the liner. The whole bottle will return to its constituent parts within a maximum of three weeks. The thin steel cap will break down in about a year.

These natural products can then return to nature through biodegradation or be eaten by organisms.

The shelf life will be the same as other regular plastic drinks bottles. The cost of producing it will be about 5p more per unit than single-use plastic bottles.

A solution to throwaway culture?

We want to provide consumers with an alternative to single-use plastic water bottles. Our bottle provides the potential to alter an entire industry away from plastics, and towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives.

Each bottle we make will replace a plastic one. This may save the ocean from one more plastic bottle or keep one plastic bottle out of landfill.

Let’s end our dependence on single-use plastics and make sure we have an ocean to save in a hundred years.

To find out more and support our project, visit our website here.

This is a guest contribution by James Longcroft. All views are James’ own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

What do you think of the Choose Water bottle? Could it help solve our plastic problem?


James-You donate 100 % of your profit to Water for Africa ? thats a brave statement I take it there are other parts to your business selling other household products ? .If all you say is true then I heartily applaud you but I am reminded of “Live Aid” where all the donations either didnt reach Africa or those that obtained the donations there used them for arms etc and not a lot of “digging for wells ” was done but I take it times have changed . I personally would be willing to pay extra for non-plastic containers as there are other side-effects in plastic that can effect male fertility and breast cancer in females , but sticking to the subject Walkers crisps arent divesting themselves of plastic bags until -2025 even when 230,000 petitioners including myself signed a petition against the company and MacDonald,s are staying silent on -one use plastic straws , I could add more but it would look like advertising I cant find much on your company although you seem to be running it yourself ( at the top ) and has had a change of name but , as I say , I compliment you if you are 100 % kosher , not many companies would do as you do in this modern business world . My one worry is what I continue to harp on about –I hope you have patented the design /material and that in several years time you sell out to Big Business USA as I am a “Britain First ” person and are you a “made in Britain ” organisation ? as we have had a convo on this recently.

On the face of it, seems a useful product. However there is very little information on the site apart from a crowdfunding scheme to buy machinery to make the bottles in house. I would have thought rather than a bottled water company trying to make its own bottles it would be better to team up with a specialist carton manufacturer and develop a market for the bottles themselves; potentially, if they are any good, far moreuses than just for water?

I must confess that I don’t see the point in bottled water when what comes out of my tap is fine 🙁

Wavechange the company has gone through some changes at the top as well as a change of name but one website noted that bottled water wasn’t its only income only James will know if that is no longer the case . I support small businesses and British entrepreneurs as long as they dont sell out to US conglomerates that then makes me realise they are only in it for a “fast buck ” but I do get the feeling (intuition ) that he seriously wants to do good, if anybody knows better or more ? I confess that I drink Highland Spring water which is very popular where I live. it comes from certified organic land in Perthshire a nice area and is excellent for making household plants grow due to the natural ingredients not polluted by chemicals.

I would like to comment on some of the points in the introduction:
When submerged in water or landfill, the paper layer starts to decompose followed by the liner. The whole bottle will return to its constituent parts within a maximum of three weeks. The thin steel cap will break down in about a year.
These natural products can then return to nature through biodegradation or be eaten by organisms.

I would like to see independent evidence that a bottle can fully degrade within three weeks in real life situations. It might be possible to achieve this under carefully chosen conditions. It is easy for any of us to confirm that paper does not degrade rapidly and the adding waxes to make paper water resistant (shopping bags) or waterproof for a short time (paper cups) makes biodegradation much slower. Sorry if I sound a bit cynical but I’ve worked on biodegradable materials and seen some questionable claims from companies involved.

A steel cap may rust away within a year under ideal conditions, but again we can all demonstrate that thin steel can survive for longer in real life. Steel would have to be coated with a waterproof material to prevent tainting of the water in the bottle.

We can’t say exactly how we make it, that’s our little secret.
Looking at what James has said here and what has been said about the new water bottle elsewhere, I understand that the bottle is made from paper with a waterproof inner liner. I wonder what the liner is made of. Obvious contenders are biodegradable plastics produced using microorganisms or non-petroleum derived waxes such as soya wax. Last night I turned up a patent by two people including James Longcroft, and that referred to wax but forgot to bookmark the details.

I have read that James Longcroft is a chemistry graduate from the University of Durham. If that’s right then he will know that anyone with lab facilities could use GC and HPLC to identify the chemical composition of the bottle liner.

What we can say is it is made from 100% biodegradable materials and they are all sustainably sourced, so no fossil fuels here.

For balance, I would like to point out that the manufacture of paper uses considerable amounts of electricity and water.

In my opinion the answer to the the environmental damage being caused by plastic bottles is for people to reuse their own bottles and for refill points to be be made readily available.

Patent application details: https://www.ipo.gov.uk/patent/p-journal/p-pj?lastResult=100&perPage=10&startYear=2018&startMonth=May&startDay=02th+-+6728&endYear=2018&endMonth=May&endDay=02th+-+6728&filter=&sort=Publication+Date&status=undefined

02 May 2018
(Journal 6728) GB1804218.4 Applicant: Longcroft, James Henry Stoddart
Title: The plasticless bottle – vacuum moulded, wax lined paper bottle
Date Lodged: 16 March 2018

To correct what I said earlier, the patent application was made by one person and not two.

Several Directors resigned from the company leaving James in charge I would not think others had a hand in it.

I don’t know much about companies, Duncan, but I would like to discuss the science. I can see that a waxed paper cup is fine for a drink of water but I wonder how long a similar bottle would survive. I’d like to see evidence that the concept holds water.

Absolutely Wavechange I want James to comment its what interests me, so a technical discussion can take place.

I would like to hear from James on the points put in this convo so I can get a better picture of his character. Wavechange is certainly a professional in this area and his words have strength and weight in my mind .

I do hope that James will come back and discuss these issues. It might be safer to stick to the science, Duncan – chemistry graduate to chemistry graduate. 😉

I do have some biodegradable items dating from the 90s, including a couple of bottles.

Malcolm might be interested to know that there are international standards on biodegradability.

doreen walters says:
3 June 2018

what a brilliant idea lets hope it catches on WELL DONE

‘Biodegradable’ materials don’t always break down as well as claimed: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/23/biodegradable-plastic-false-solution-for-ocean-waste-problem

I very look forward to seeing independent evidence that new materials do break down within weeks under real life conditions.

Any chance of James replying to the above posts Which ? it would further his “charitable ” cause and he could speak word to word with a Professor (Wavechange ) in his line of bio/chemical derived business ?

Waxed cartons are nothing new so I’m intrigued to know how this differs. I haven’t looked at the patent applcation but since the details have been published I don’t know why James says it’s his secret- when a patent application makes it public. Nor am I in favour of another throw away piece of packaging. Personally I’d prefer to see reusable small bottles for water that you can refill from a tap or, if bottled water is a must, from a big bottle.

As far as I know, most waxed containers use paraffin waxes – synthetic linear esters that will degrade only very slowly. Soy wax is chemically similar to ordinary fats (i.e. triacylglyerols) but presumably higher melting point and is more readily biodegradable than paraffin waxes.

Reusable bottles, filling points and water fountains are among the ways we can reduce needless waste of materials and energy.

I wonder how the cost compares with an aluminium can which is recyclable? An “extra 5p a bottle” for this version seems not insignificant. I assume partly down to small-scale production? But I’d still like to see an end to unnecessary packaging, particularly that sent to landfill where I presume these empty bottles are destined.

Its the degradation factor I would like James to come forward and speak about , that ,at least, is not a “secret ” otherwise well meaning as I think his convo might be it might start looking like an advert if he doesnt speak up.

Manufacture of aluminium uses a great deal of electricity and though it can be recycled more cheaply, a great deal of cans, single-use food trays, foil, etc. are not recycled, hence the planned deposit return scheme we discussed in another Convo.

The key is, I think to promote the collection and recycling of aluminium containers. It uses relatively little energy. Better, I think, than creating single-use packaging.

In 2000 GreenBiz published a piece about the USDA developing a biodegradeable waterproof wax derived from corn (zein protein) as an alternative to petroleum-based waxes.

Your right malcolm but a lot of the research was put in motion by the US Defense Dept for field operations .

I recall the research on zein, which is a natural material and is biodegradable but I would not describe it as a wax. Zein would not be sufficiently waterproof for manufacture of bottles but there are plenty of other applications. Here is the abstract of a paper about zein: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0926669000000649 The full text can be found found online elsewhere.

@james-longcroft Hi James – Please could you let us have an update on your project.

I second that Wavechange .

I would rather have reusable or recyclable bottles. I’d also prefer not to see them used unnecessarily for transporting water. Sgd mr grumpy.

The new biodegradable bottle is due to be launched in September 2018. Nothing so far. For the year ended 30 September 2017, the average number of employees was nil. Hopefully that has changed in 2018. Crowdfunding has raised £39,526 at the time of writing, though the link has been removed from the Choose Water website.

Please let us have an update James.

We should not be supporting single use bottles that cannot be reused or recycled so they just get dumped in landfill. We should (in my view) support minimal and reusable packaging and materials. Nor do I see bottles of water as being a good example of where to use them.

Tom says:
2 July 2019

We’ve put our own little spin on helping reduce plastic. We’ve started using beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm. Would fully recommend! https://beehivefoodwraps.com/collections/beeswax-food-wraps/products/beeswax-food-wrap-pack-of-3