What’s twice the size of Texas, floats on water, and weighs as much as 500 jumbo jets?
That would be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
By recent numbers, there are roughly 1.8 trillion plastic pieces floating in the patch, which sits in the North Pacific ocean between Hawaii and California. Much of that debris comes from plastic drink bottles, which can take hundreds of years to disintegrate. The U.S. alone buys about 29 billion water bottles per year, and only one in six of those are recycled. The rest wind up in landfills or, more often, the ocean.
Finding an alternative to those plastic bottles is the core mission behind Bevi, the smart beverage dispenser currently making its way into offices, gyms, schools, and hotels. In the words of cofounder and Head of Marketing Frank Lee, the company is “building a future without plastic bottles and cans.”
The Bevi machine dispenses both still and sparkling water, which can also be flavored, and comes in two sizes: a five-foot-tall dispenser and a countertop model. It’s hooked up to a tap water source, and that water runs through the machine’s custom filtration system. Users, meanwhile, can select flavors (the machine can hold up to four at one time) and adjust their drink’s sweetness with a sliding scale that appears on the touchscreen. All flavors are vegan, kosher, and sweetened naturally, according to the company.
But back to the floating garbage patch: Bevi Cofounder and Head of Product Eliza Becton started reading about it when she was studying industrial design at Rhode Island School of Design. “[Bevi] was essentially a way for her to figure out how to clean up the ocean,” says Lee. Becton, Lee, and CEO and cofounder Sean Grundy joined forces in 2013 and started making smart beverage prototypes, from which Bevi was eventually born.
Besides being an eco-friendly alternative to bottled drinks, Bevi is also trying to offer more consistency and precision when it comes to flavor. A traditional soda gun (which the trio reverse engineered at one point in the name of research) has no consistent flavor level or carbonation settings. So instead, Bevi used some of the same technology found in medical devices, where dispensing the correct dosages is life or death. In other words: precision is paramount.
Water flavors may not fall in the lifesaving department, but digitizing the way people get them still delivers a much more consistent product.
Lee points out a couple other advantages to being digital:
For one, Bevi is an internet-connected machine, which means the company can monitor flavor data in real time. That makes it much easier to know when a machine’s flavor supply needs to be refilled. Office managers, Lee points out, typically have to restock beverages by going to a place like Costco and buying cases that have to be lugged back to the office or facility. By proactively monitoring levels and dispatching someone to refill them before they run out, Bevi eliminates this particular task, along with the wasted time and back pain that goes along with it.
The other advantage to being digital is that it allows Bevi to analyze which flavors are working, which are less popular, and any other noteworthy trends. At the start of the year, for example, cucumber-flavored water spiked as people were making their new year resolutions. That’s great information for Bevi, who can plan ahead to next January and push “cleansing” flavors accordingly.
Right now Bevi is focused on putting their devices in public places, where they see the most opportunity. While many, including myself, have asked about a home version of the machine, Lee didn’t have any specifics as to if or when that might materialize. Currently, both models of the machine are only available for business use. Pricing varies by company, but the Bevi website notes that “Bevi can cost as low as 26 cents per drink.”
Bevi is all about changing consumer behavior, which is a cornerstone of any true innovation. It’s also not easy to accomplish, and when it comes to plastic water bottles, there are decades of conditioning to undo in consumers before the majority of them opt for a more eco-friendly alternative. That’s really true for any kind of beverage receptacle, plastic or otherwise. I’d love to see a future where everything from fast food joints to Starbucks to the gas station has a Bevi or Bevi-like machine that’s not only digital but also offers a a real alternative to those fridges full of plastic.
No telling if that’ll actually happen, but in terms of changing the way we think about what we drink, the folks at Bevi seems up to the challenge.