The Low-cost, Durable Water Backpacks Were Developed for Water Transport in Water-Stressed Regions and Disaster Zones
A water backpack designed by global industrial packaging leader Greif, Inc., has been honored with a 2012 Best of What's New Award from Popular Science magazine. The PackH2O backpack was created specifically for the human transport of water in water-stressed regions and disaster zones.
"For 25 years, Popular Science has honored the innovations that surprise and amaze us − those that make a positive impact on our world today and challenge our view of what's possible in the future," said Jacob Ward, editor-in-chief of Popular Science. "The Best of What's New Award is the magazine's top honor, and each of the 100 winners − chosen from among thousands of entrants − is a revolution in its field."
Up to 2.4 billion people live in water-stressed areas. UNICEF estimates that women and children in developing nations spend 200 million hours daily collecting water, often from distant sources, and then carrying it home in discarded jerry cans and buckets that were often originally used to contain lubricants, agrichemicals or fuel oils. Furthermore, in almost all cases studied, the discarded containers harbored harmful bacteria. Numerous organizations around the world have generously invested in the much-needed activities of drilling wells, purifying water and filtering it. Yet no one has addressed easing the burden of carrying heavy water, or the "Achilles' heel" of putting clean water in dirty containers. This water backpack was designed to do that ... and more.
Simple Idea, Purposeful Design
The water backpack is part of the company's work with the Clinton Global Initiative and its commitment to CGI to improve water transport in some of the world's poorest regions. On a trip to Haiti to help install a rain catchment system in a rural village, Greif President & CEO David Fischer observed women carrying water in containers on their heads, and children lugging home dirty jerry cans and buckets full of water. (The water in a typical 20 liter container alone weighs 44 pounds.) Having carried such heavy containers himself, seeing the ingrained filth inside the plastic containers and recognizing that the containers being used were likely chemically contaminated, Fischer knew there was a better way and challenged the company to find it. The result is the PackH2O backpack that alleviates the physical and safety challenges of getting water home.
The company tested the water backpack with prospective users in different and diverse communities, watching how they were used and listening to comments. They would then take the feedback to the design team, which would incorporate the suggestions through several finely tuned iterations.
Fischer said, "Watching this water backpack take shape and change the lives of women and children in Haiti and other impoverished regions has been rewarding in and of itself. The Best of What's New Award couldn't be a better affirmation of our efforts to make a real difference in the lives of millions of people around the world."
The PackH2O backpack takes the painful burden off the wearer's head and neck and places it ergonomically on the back with the weight evenly distributed, making it easier to carry over any terrain – from flatlands to mountains – while leaving the user's hands free.
Seven times lighter than a jerry can, it has the same 20 liter capacity. Its compact size allows for fast, high-volume emergency relief shipments at a smaller per-unit freight cost than a rigid container; folded, it requires less storage space than a rigid container.
The water backpack is made of industrial-grade polypropylene fabric that makes it durable and able to withstand the daily demands of carrying water. Its roll-top closure protects the water during transport and diminishes water loss due to spillage and evaporation.
Broad, soft but sturdy adjustable straps allow individualized comfort. The sturdy base allows the water backpack to stand on its own while being filled or emptied, while the material is flexible for use in streams and tight spaces. The wide mouth is ideal for fast filling, reducing wait time and exposure to danger at the water source. In a study conducted with Partners in Health in Haiti, more than 60 percent of the users said they were spending less time carrying water, citing the faster filling time and the ability to carry more water with less water loss during transit. This allowed them to spend more time on other matters.
The wide mouth also gives easy access to the sanitary, replaceable inside liner for cleaning or removal. The clear liner can be disinfected by exposure to sunlight via a process known as SODIS (solar water disinfection), which will help clean the liner of water-borne pathogens for its next use.
Reflective strips sewn onto the water backpack add an element of safety during transport in the dark. An integrated loop enables hanging on a wall. The protected spigot has been engineered for optimal flow of water into a glass or pot without splashing or trickling.
Because children should carry much less weight than an adult, Greif has also designed a smaller, 5-liter unit with the same features as the 20-liter water backpack, yet scaled to a child's smaller size.
Made to Last
Keeping costs low was a major consideration during the design. A water backpack can be purchased and donated for $10 at the web site PackH2O, www.packh20.com, and can be custom-printed for bulk orders.
"We designed sustainability into the water backpack and into our business model as well," said Fischer. "We took care to minimize its carbon footprint as much as possible. We also made the water backpack self-supporting, setting the price to cover costs and enable distribution. This way, we can remain committed to production and innovation of the water backpack long into the future, until the day they're not needed anymore."
Since November 2011, tens of thousands of PackH2O backpacks have been distributed in Haiti, Guatemala, Kenya and Uganda, with plans to add geographies as soon as they can be supported with distribution and training. The goal is to deliver the needed millions of water backpacks to women, children and men in the underdeveloped regions of the world, and have them ready for deployment in emergencies.
The water backpack is also available in kits that are optimally priced to be sewn, distributed and sold by women creating small business networks in developing markets with minimal capital and training. The intention is for the water backpacks to ultimately create needed local jobs in the economically disadvantaged communities.
"We want to make lives better in these regions," Fischer said. "We believe that this wonderful recognition by Popular Science with its Best of What's New Award will help us do exactly that."
About Greif, Inc.
Greif, Inc., a leading global industrial packaging manufacturer, has a long-term commitment to creating and engaging in sustainable business practices and supporting humanitarian relief efforts. Greif has invested in manufacturing process improvements that reduce waste, energy and water use. For more information, visit www.greif.com/sustainability.
SOURCE: Greif, Inc.