Technology, material and design expertise are changing the way the world uses water.
Of the global population, about 3.3 million people will die from water-related health problems this year, according to Gaylon White, director of design programs with Eastman Chemical Co. of Kingsport, Tenn.
It's a worldwide problem that will take the whole world to solve, White told those gathered for IDSA's Southern District conference, held April 15-17 in Austin.
In developing countries, women walk 3.7 miles to get water. Natural disasters are on the rise. In 2010, natural disasters killed 295,000, costing $130 billion, he said.
But through the marriage of technology, material and design, regions of the world devastated by natural or man-made disasters may now have access to life-saving purified water that doesn't necessarily have to be trucked in, said White and other officials at the meeting of the Industrial Designers Society of America.
White roused the crowd by drinking out of a HydroPack, a 4-inch by 6-inch single-use pouch that is created from polyester, polyethylene and a cellulose-based membrane.
The pouches are made and filled by Hydration Technologies Inc. of Albany, Ore. White's pack had been soaked for eight to 12 hours in a hotel wastebasket filled with water and an assortment of contaminants including coffee grounds and shampoo.
But by design and plastics technology, the water White drank from the pouch had been purified. There was no trace of shampoo, or coffee grounds. In a forward-osmosis process, the water is purified through the membrane and combined with a powder substance that converts it into a Gatorade-type drink.
In regions devastated by disasters, water laced with dangerous contaminants such as E. coli and chloroform becomes drinkable, completely safe for human consumption.
The pouches literally save lives in countries such as Kenya.
White and several other officials traveled to the Kenyan village of Mudimbia earlier this year to test the pouch. Roughly 30,000 pouches were passed out to village residents. Hydration Technology Innovations LLC of Scottsdale, Ariz., developed the product, he said.
Forward osmosis is the process by which water goes through trees; there is no power required, White said. In a disaster situation, you don't have power. This is allowing Mother Nature's forces to work for you rather than trying to fight It. Cellulose technology is the heart of the membrane.
Heat will cause the process to activate more quickly. Eastman and HTI are working together on advances in cellulosics, he said. The pouch can be customized to address specific contaminant issues in certain countries for example, to address the radiation in water in Japan.
Eastman and HTI cooperated with a non-governmental organization in Kenya. In the case of disaster situations, the water is dirty and people don't have access to clean water.
In the 1995 Rwandan civil war, for example, water could not be trucked in, and because of logistics, many people died.
We need creative solutions to the world's complex problems, White said.
Ken Surritte is hoping that his company's initiatives also are addressing those problems. The founder and president of WaterIsLife in Edmond, Okla., uses the HydroPacks for his relief workers. WaterIsLife stepped up water-purifying technology with The Straw, a plastic device that Surritte has deployed for use in Colombia, China, Kenya and many other countries. The pouch is single-use and provides nutrient-enhanced water; The Straw then will provide water for one year.
This buys us 12 months, Surritte said in an April 27 interview at the firm's offices. This straw is the first part. Then into phase two, we implement a more sustainable solution. In most cases, it's a bore-hole well.
The Straw is injection molded at a factory in China. Inner parts include a charcoal filter, iodine crystals and membrane filters. It will provide 3 liters of clean water everyday for one year. Surritte and company then step into the third phase of more education, hygiene training, how to take care of wells, and how to prepare for the future. The education largely is focused on children. Roughly 6,500 people die each day because of waterborne illnesses; 5,000 of those are children.
We've tried to make this something that kids could bang around, he said. The innovation came from his days as a Boy Scout and he just refers to it as old backpacker technology put into a package that children can utilize. The firm produces different colors for different years or for groups such as the military.
The nonprofit has been working since 2008 specifically on the filters. Since that time, it has deployed 40,000 straws. It operates on donations; each straw costs $10. WaterIsLife bought HydroPacks for its responders, especially as an electrolyte supplement.
When you're working in those areas, the inclination of emergency workers is to go without, he said. We use the HydroPacks to keep the workers hydrated.