At 27 years of age, James Longcroft invented a biodegradable, 100% plastic-free water bottle. After a successful crowdfunding venture and rounding up investors for the company – not to mention a small explosion during the invention process – he's now on the search for help from the on-trade to rid the drinks industry of plastic. With his sights set beyond water and into the realm of bottled cocktails, we spoke to Longcroft to find out how and why your bar should get involved.
Talk me through the evolution of the brand from conception to today...
I started Choose Water about three years ago. We were just a standard bottled-water company, business was going well and when we got a festival contract we were doing about 10,000 bottles a weekend. We had someone comment about [the effect plastic has on the environment] during the festival and after it happened a couple more times, I did some research and found out what was actually going on. I knew that plastic could be recycled but I didn’t realise the effect it was having on our oceans and waterways. What really didn’t sit well with me was that all the waste management goes on the consumer: we [as the supplier] can put a label on our bottles [saying they’re recyclable] and technically we’ve done our bit. If you’re putting something out there you should know how to get rid of it.
What happened when you decided to stop using plastic?
We lost 70% of our revenue overnight. I looked into cans and bio-plastic, but they still have to go in a special bin. I wanted something that, no matter where it ended up, would disappear – I couldn’t find anything. We didn’t have any money or a huge research development lab, so I sat down at my kitchen table and just turned to nature. We had a couple of fires (there may have been a small explosion) then I got a workshop and managed to develop a working prototype. It cost a fortune to make but it did work. We launched a crowdfunding campaign in May last year which raised almost £50k, and off the back of that a gentleman phoned me up asking to take me out for lunch. He works with businesses that help save the ocean and after playing with the bottle for a while he made an investment. We’ve had a rebrand, used the money to build up a factory and now we’ve got a very small production line.
In layman's terms, can you explain the actual science behind what makes up the bottles?
It’s made out of three parts. First, there’s a paper casing which is the shell of the bottle. It’s made from 100% recycled paper while the label is printed using eco inks. Second, the lining is a blend of about 15 ingredients that are completely sustainable, derived from extracting parts of the ingredients and are completely vegan and halal. We cure the inside of the bottle in a very hot oven which kills germs and provides a secure casing for the water which comes from the Cairngorms. Finally, the capping system involves an alloy neckpiece that goes over the top of the paper, then a simple metal screw cap which eventually breaks down into natural minerals.
What sort of venues do you want to stock Choose Water?
We’re in a weird position where we can be quite selective with who we want to stock the bottles. We’ve been inundated with demand and, in a year or two, we should be able to outweigh it. We’re looking for retailers who are actively caring. I’d rather say no to people to find the right ones, so over the next but over the next few months we’re looking for 10-15 hero vendors. Ideally, we’re looking for one of each (one bar, one restaurant, one hotel, etc) in the first year – that way they can say ‘we are the only one in the world to offer this alternative’.
Who knows, perhaps we’ll produce the world’s first biodegradable bottled Cosmopolitan
What are the benefits for venues who decide to stock your water?
The key benefit is that the public are more demanding and pressure is growing momentum. There aren’t a huge amount of alternatives for the trade, but if there’s the demand for an alternative to plastic bottled water, we can offer it. We’ve also achieved amazing PR and the hero vendors can join in with that and align themselves with us.
‘Sustainability’ has been such a buzzword over the last few years, with lots of brands claiming to be sustainable when they aren’t. How would you respond to anyone who questions your use of the word?
We’re sustainable because the paper casing is made from off-cuts – we aren’t cutting down trees for that. The liner itself is completely natural but you don’t have to cut things down to make it and the resources going into it aren’t going to run out. The metal is recycled, and the water is naturally drawn from the spring rather than pumped (which is what a lot of companies do). All the inks [on the label] are natural bio inks. We still use electricity to make the bottles but we’re looking to change that at some point.
Are you going to be providing it in different formats and with different liquids any time soon?
We’ve got different sizes in development (330ml, and looking at a 750ml as well). We’ve also started looking at a two-litre option but there are two issues: one is that they don’t hold their shape as well, and the other is that we’d be venturing into the world of table bottles. That’s more for the luxury market which I don’t think is the way for us to go. In terms of different liquids, we started with bottled water, and if you can bottle still water, you can bottle anything. We’re looking to advance the range with other products, like alcohol and juice, as well as coffee cups. Who knows, perhaps we’ll produce the world’s first biodegradable bottled Cosmopolitan.