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Water bottles, caps and learning from post WW2 solutions for usability, durability and local industry.

Before the glass coke bottle, later pet bottle, bottles were made by artisan of regional materials-techniques. Local production could work.

Photo of Keith Riggs
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In the post WW2 market places around the world, there was at first a lot of mass produced well made gear for soldiers, like water containers, food conveyance equipment as Army surplus. For some time after the war this was an undervalued marketplace continuing after black market activities which are common during the wars.  In war regions during the last 40 years, it is a programmed side marketplace for contractors to exploit opportunities even before the wars end. (Cellphone contracts made during Gulfwar1) Before WW1 and the modern wars which are fought with mass produced equipment,  especially in poor and remote areas, traditional water, food transfer and serving containers came mostly from local craftsmen and local materials. But learning from the effectiveness of mass produced products and working to extend markets and influence to stabilize war torn regions, products were designed to fill needs in diverse cultures and societies. Strategic design was very effective in the way. In USA as late as the 1960's Army bottles and mess kit were seen in use by citizens as reliable and practical equipment, often used by veterans of foreign wars, for instance to go picnicking or camping. The practice of using discarded or cheap Armee surplus containers lasted longer in many developing countries. Perhaps of interest is the sociologic side effects of foreign occupation and prolonging the reminders of war in peaceful times through marketplaces selling resilient artefacts for daily use. Later in the 70's American product designers began to create improved versions for camping and active people, for example the company Sigg became a leader of metal bottle production now finding their way to touristy places as go-with-anywhere water bottles instead of branded pet bottles. Now days, we love to express our readiness and performance level by our hydration system or prepared food innovations. It is simply smart but perhaps not always authentic.

In India artisans still make traditional clay bottles for carrying water. In Africa water transport usually by women tends to be done in durable HDPE 10-15 L. canisters. Wine world wide is almost always sold in glass because of taste and value perceptions but I once bought some table wine in northern Sardinia poured into a used PET bottle. Status, Brand and apparent quality matter to people as conveyed materially and graphically.

But the pet bottle with separate lid has dominated for decades because of its very low price, elegance of solution as a fluids container and can host on its label any brand, story or message. In short, the pet bottle is amazing in the «jobs to be done» solutions category and the advantage of plastic bottle clarity is that people can see when it is clean. Drinking water safety as a top priority will become even more important as water shortages happen in arid climates but containers made of; aluminium, polycarbonate, and clay bottles are not so attractive because of perceptions of purity. 

What could be offered locally?  We can see from some handcrafted and locally made bottles that there can be; cultural identifiers and perceived elegance which adds status  by associations or expressions of cleverness in new designed bottles. We can look to old crafts traditions or regional products for inspiration of durable and locally authentic status between customers and local makers. Innovation has most been supplied from outside and in marketplaces around the world the customised drink bottles and conveyance products are made mostly remotely, perhaps in China and refer to foreign icons or Branded stories. There remains no link between local learning and pride in the product and therefore a disconnect that might bring an investment in iterative local development. Brand clarity, ubiquitous advertising, cheap prices and market saturation are dominate pressures in developing countries blocking local iterative developments. 

With collaborative knowledge and tech transfer and remanufactured production equipment on the supply side, making smaller runs of semi finished higher quality, customizable or retro bottles could Up-value the experience of owning and caring for the use objects an important value proposition. With higher quality perception and small run customisation for local market comes a slower cycle of demand and lower numbers produced and consumed. Bottle Caps of premium equipment are not lost because so the owner is invested in caring for the product which retains value.. 

I think good solutions will come out of regional or even local business2cultural reboot projects which slow the lose of value happening in our current; pay-own-carry-use-discard-forget lifecycles which are responsible for the high levels of plastic object pollution.

How does this research relate to our Use Cases?

Case two «Bottle caps and tear offs» The project Trash Hero Water Bottles in Thailand has verified that making higher value and we'll designed bottles available and communicating how they radically improve the use and recycling rate. If we ad to that local production using local materials and knowhow from anywhere and everyone then the learning curve would be accelerated and culture and business would mutually benefit while saving our oceans and lands.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

new materials which are good cradle to cradle answers or happening all the time. reusable Bees wax paper from «ChangeMakers. com instead of plastic wrap. A new boat hull paint made of sea shells promises to replace sea toxic bottom paint. If one thinks about design fundaments, then creating ways to share knowledge across cultures of new technology then we can assist local product and life cycles.

Tell us about yourself

Keith Riggs is currently starting a C2C group here in Bern, Switzerland. He studied History of Ideas at Willamette Univ. and later Industrial Design@CCA in SF-CA He is committed to sustainability and now leads Circular Design workshops at the Impact Hub, Bern.


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Photo of Lynn Johnson

Hi Keith, I totally agree with your idea -  it's time to turn back the clock and learn from our ancestors - how they survived without plastics for hundreds and thousands of years using local natural resources and manufacture.  Best regards, Lynn

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