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Cove creates biodegradable water bottles from food waste

Ecologically inclined start-up Cove has released a new water bottle that appears as plastic to the naked eye – but actually is made from biodegradable food waste called PHA. It is the first of its kind, and the product is commercially available.

Amid our current climate crisis, plastic waste is an epidemic all of its own.

We’re on a slippery slope to having more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050 and each one of our discarded single-use bottles will take up to 1,000 years to decompose. It’s a depressing reality, but one we still have a chance to avoid.

Beyond gargantuan clean-up operations, we need commercial alternatives to plastic bottles to ensure we aren’t merely passing the buck to future generations.

Knowing the magnitude of such a challenge, an ecological start-up called Cove has created a sustainable alternative it believes can have a big impact in the coming years.

Its flagship product is an innocuous looking water bottle that feels like regular plastic. Its key USP, however, is that it’s made of a variety of bioplastic called PHA – which is designed to break down when composted or within water.

Credit: Cove

The bottle’s material is made through fermentation, which involves feeding microbes with vegetable oil, sugar, food waste, or sequestered CO2, until they produce natural polymers within their cell structures.

Once this occurs, they are extracted and used to form a firm, non-toxic variety of plastic that reportedly degrades in less than five years of being tossed.

Tests are being run at the University of Georgia to examine the product’s malleability in several environments; including Arctic and Atlantic ocean sediment, lake sediment, and regular soil.

‘No two environments are the same… generally, the idea is just to get sort of an estimate that gives you an upper bound and lower bound for how long it will take,’ says Ben Kogan, Cove’s head of sustainability and policy.

While Cove has designed its product for the worst case scenario, it is hoped that its packaging avoids ending up nestled in delicate ecosystems in the first place.

Credit: Cove

At the first retail store to adopt the Cove bottle – a health food retailer based in LA, called Erewhon – a designated bin will collect the bottles for composting. This is said to be the most effective means of disposal, with third-party experiments ratifying that the bottles break down fully within 90 days.

With proof that the bottle is effective, the next real challenge is expanding its commercial scale so it can eventually displace some of its harmful counterparts. The premium price of $2.99 per unit is expected to come down as the start-up grows, and (hopefully) as suppliers start taking notice.

‘What we’re trying to do is sort of effectively create a case study that then others follow, with a large consumer demand signal, and see kind of a similar progression in PHA that’s happened in electric vehicles,’ says Cove’s CEO Alex Totterman.

Much in the same way that giant vehicle companies have hopped on EVs, we now need the biggest offenders in the bottle industry to jump on developments like this. We’ll see if 2023 provides the breakthrough.