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let's water: Bottle Rental Service

Empowering people to make a positive environmental impact one drink at a time.

Photo of Gen Hur
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Problem Space

2.4 million tons of PET plastic are discarded every year and 27-41% of them came from plastic bottles. Even progressive states such as California recycle only about 40% of their plastic bottles every year, while Americans, on average, only recycle about 6%. 

Through our research, we discovered that people wouldn't recycle their plastic bottles unless it was more convenient and cost-effective for them to do so. How do we create a system that helps them save money and time while reducing or even eliminating the use and waste of plastic bottles?

What it Does

The Let's Water system is comprised of Let's Water stations placed in high foot-traffic areas and a mobile app. 

Let's Water encourages users to reuse their bottles by providing a platform that dispenses drinks and proprietary, 100% post-recycled Let's Water bottles. Users can use their own bottles at the drink dispenser and pay retail price for the drinks, or create an account to purchase a $1 Let's Water bottle to buy drinks and refills at a discounted price. They will also gain access to various incentives and an interface where they can see how they are making an environmental impact. 

Business Model

When the user returns the bottle, they can purchase a new one for 50 cents. If they lose the bottle, they pay full price ($1). This way, we can compete with bottled drinks. 

We can partner with college stores and local businesses to provide incentives in the form of credits toward various products and services. 

We can also gather data on what kinds of drinks/combinations people buy and where, and how often they refill their bottles relative to their location.

How do we plan to scale?

We'd like to start out at small, closed systems like college campuses and event venues. This way, we can learn how Let's Water can be improved by observing who our core demographics are, how foot traffic flows, whether our incentives work, and how we can better tailor those incentives toward specific groups of people. After gathering data and refining our system, we plan to expand to gas stations and large retail chains like Walmart. 

Designed to Scale

Our machines are designed in such a way that companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi can brand our system with their products. 

We also envision partnering with entertainment and lifestyle companies to create incentives for users who would feel more motivated to use our service if they could receive credits toward a product or service of their choice. (For example, 50 refills = a free month of Xbox Live/donation to charity/free bike-sharing pass.) 

(This is because people don't use the systems in place that already monetize used plastic. It's harder to motivate people to gather 50+ plastic bottles for a small sum of money than it is to convince them to use a convenient service in order to gain more access to a product that they already enjoy using.) 

How did we test this?

We created a mockup of the machine and interface and the mobile interface, and tested them on college students on campuses. 

Idea Title

Let's Water: Bottle Rental and Beverage Dispensing System

Company / Organization Name

Chan-Hee Koh Robert Galicia Kasey Chen Gen Hur


Under Construction: Personal Websites:

Where are you / your team located?

Los Angeles

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

Through our research, we discovered that people didn't use reusable bottles because they found it inconvenient to clean them after each use, and because it was simply easier for them to buy plastic bottles in bulk. Let's Water reduces the need to buy plastic bottles and encourages users to use environmentally-friendly and reusable bottles. Users can buy bottles, drop them off, refill them, and receive new ones for a discounted price at other conveniently-placed Let's Water stations.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Let's Water potentially taps into a new market of consumers who would prefer to use an environmentally conscious and yet economical and convenient solution to quench their thirst. It targets busy people who don't use or seek out reusable bottles because they find it inconvenient and time-consuming, and users who buy new bottles because they don't have an easily accessible way to refill them before throwing them away.

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

High foot traffic urban areas (like San Francisco or New York). Initial roll-outs on college campuses to test

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Our machines are designed in such a way that companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi can brand our system with their products. We envision partnering with entertainment and lifestyle companies to create incentives for users by granting them credits toward a product or service of their choice with every Let's Water use. (For example, 50 refills = a free month of Xbox Live/donation to charity/a bike-sharing pass.)

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.
  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

Success can be measured by the amount of plastic waste reduced from the introduction of this systemic solution. By encouraging the use of this reusable solution, we hope to lower the dependency of the local regions on plastic bottles by 50% in the medium run, and hopefully close to 100% in the long run.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

While brainstorming at the OpenIDEO hackathon, we discovered that 2.4 million tons of PET plastic were discarded every year and that 27-41% of them came from plastic bottles. We also realized that many people carried plastic water bottles with them on the street and that they found reusable bottles inconvenient to use due to weight and/or the inherent cleaning requirements.

Tell us about your work experience

Chan-Hee Koh is a Software Engineer w/ degree in mechanical engineering. Kasey Chen is a branding/packaging designer. Robert Galicia is a product designer Gen Hur is an interaction designer

Please describe your legal and organizational structure


Please describe, in detail, your business model and how you intend to test and iterate this model.

-Recycling trends indicate a growing demand and therefore a major opportunity in the market of reusable plastics -We intend to capitalize on the highest utilization product (beverage bottles) to reach largest market -Assumption: People do not like using reusable bottles due to inconvenience -Goal: Provide incentives and convenient locations for people to use our reusable product. -Approach: Partner with college campuses and industry leaders. -Outcome: More demand for reusable plastic.

Please explain how your innovation will work within, potentially improve, and provide benefit to the plastics system.

-Plastic collection facilities already exist and therefore we can employ their services to source and deliver raw material -Our bottles and caps will be made of entire the same material, eliminating the need to separate the two for recycling. -Our bottles can also be recycled in the traditional sense, but customers will be highly incentivized to return the bottles to our machine

Please describe, in depth, how your solution will reduce the overall environmental footprint of packaging.

-We will use 100% recycled plastic, reducing the impact of virgin plastic on the environment and no additional environmental footprint caused by plastic waste -Our system would reduce the impact of plastic waste by recycling their disposable PET bottles for discounted beverages -Main source of material is PET flakes which are then melted and extruded into our bottles -The bottle reclamation function of our machines would serve as source material and convert more bottles into recycled bottles

Please outline how your design, material, and delivery choices will influence price, and how you intend to address the price increase that may result from this solution.

-Our bottles will cost more to manufacture due to durability, quality, identification requirements. -Reusability of every bottle means we can get extract more revenue per bottle than a standard disposable drink. -Government incentives pertinent to recycling and reducing carbon footprint can subsidize our costs -Key partnerships can help us reduce the cost during the manufacturing process. -We will also be selling beverages which are well known to have high margins

Please explain how your solution will impact user behavior, and what design considerations you've included to ensure easy and intuitive interactions with your Idea. 

-Machines will be rolled out on college campuses, where users are likely to be tech savvy and open-minded about trying out new products -The inherent message of alleviating the harmful effects of waste is a powerful incentive for many. -Our system will feature familiar UI elements based on well defined design principles to make the purchase process intuitive -By emulating vending machines, fountain drink dispensers, water fountains, we hope to make our machines intuitive to use

Please describe how you intend to use the prize funding, if selected as a Top Idea. Be specific.

-Product Research on extant industry solutions -Scaled down version for proof of concept for bottle and machine -Prove market demand and build minimum viable product -Tap mentorship network and seek strategic partnerships with industry leaders


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Gen Hur 

As Refinement Phase quickly comes to a close in LESS THAN 8 HOURS, I want to remind you that the following must be submitted by tonight, August 31st at 11:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

1. Submit the Refinement Questions Form online that was sent again via email yesterday evening--we have not yet received this from you. These questions are mandatory for Top Ideas consideration, so this should be your first priority in the final stretch.

2. A secondary priority, which is optional, is to update your Refinement Phase post. I see you've already updated your concept on the platform. But please share any additional information, photos, and documentation of your progress throughout this Phase!

Looking forward to reviewing and celebrating the amazing work you've achieved this Refinement Phase!

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