Feature Story

How IoT could help rid the world of plastic water bottles

by Jason Deign

With the world on track to go through 400+ billion plastic water bottles this year, new technology comes up with an alternative.

With the world on track to go through 400+ billion plastic water bottles this year, new technology comes up with an alternative.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has got its work cut out solving problems across areas as diverse as logistics and subways. But now there's another way it could help humankind: by getting us to stop relying so much on plastic bottles and drink more tap water. Drinking tap water might sound like a minor adjustment, but it's not. 

Our aversion to chlorinated H2O means we tend to buy water in plastic bottles. And our addiction to plastic is killing the planet. Up to 480 billion plastic bottles will be bought this year, which equals roughly a million a minute, according to industry experts. Of those, only 7 percent get recycled into new bottles. 

That is why serial entrepreneur Magnus Jern decided to do something about it. And the standard alternative to bottled water, using filter jugs, needed an upgrade. 

Filtered water jugs are usually popular with environmentally-conscious consumers for a few months, but then usage drops off. The reason? People get lazy and forget to change the filter. 

Over time, says Jern, the filters accumulate dirt until the water in the the jug is dirtier than tap water. The key, he says, was to find a way to get filters changed as needed, with as little effort as possible. That is where the IoT comes in. 

In 2016, Jern, whose background is in mobile apps and other digital technologies, launched a venture called TAPP Water in his home city of Barcelona, Spain. 

TAPP Water's main product is a unit that fits on 95 percent of household taps and contains a water filter that gets rid of 98 percent of the matter that gives water a bad taste. The unit can be switched on for drinking water or off to do the dishes, helping prolong the life of the filter. 

But the key to the product is that each unit carries a sensor to tell when the filter needs changing. At that point, the system orders a new filter which the owner can fit within seconds. 

There is no extra charge for the filter: TAPP Water works on a subscription basis with an annual payment of about $60 (€60 in Europe), far below the usual cost of bottled water. Users on TAPP Water's Facebook page claim to have saved hundreds of dollars thanks to the scheme. 

Compared to filter jugs, TAPP Water offers instant filtering and cuts out microplastics, which are a growing health concern. Each filter can process more than 250 gallons of water and the latest version of the product, TAPP2, has biodegradable filters. 

TAPP Water also beats another common water filtering system, reverse osmosis. Unlike reverse osmosis, TAPP Water units keep the water's essential minerals, and are easy to install, cheap to run, and do not waste water.

"Our goal is to reduce waste by 1 billion bottles by 2020," says Jern. "We need 2.4 million customers to reach our goal."

It is an ambitious target, but TAPP Water is growing fast. After launching in Spain, it has started selling in Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, and is set to disembark soon in the United States. Consumers who are fed up with bottled water will be glad. 

"Before we used to have to buy bottles or put up with the taste of water from the tap," says Marta Fernandez, a TAPP Water customer in Barcelona. "Now we have water that tastes good, costs less, and does not produce lots of plastic waste."

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