Water Monsters

Service Design
A novel kind of water fountain designed to tackle the inescapable scourge of disposable water bottle pollution in London.
As part of the #OneLess Design Fellowship
in partnership with Forum for the Future
With Anna Schlimm, Will Fazackerley and Victor Strimfors
Monstera Media
A plastic water bottle at the shopA pile of discarded water bottles
The ubiquitous plastic bottle has become a symbol as well as a prime expression of our throwaway consumer culture. After its contents are consumed, and thirst is assuaged, the plastic bottle lives on to litter our streets, overflow our public bins and finally, pollute and clog up our oceans and poison marine life.
Though a portion of this waste does reach recycling centers (in London only about 32%) this is but a bandaid on a massive environmental challenge.

The Problem
The Solution?
In recent years the growing popularity of reusable water bottles has helped many people reduce their dependence on this master polluter. Instead of constantly buying new disposable bottles, hip busy urbanites can just refill their personal bottles at home, the office, or at public fountains. An average Londoner using a reusable bottle can spare the environment about 175 single-use bottles a year, save himself some cash, and feel smug about doing the right thing to boot.

A range of refillable water bottles
What is preventing a cultural shift from single-use bottles to refillables? 
Unfortunately, this change in consumer behaviour is still marginal. The vast majority of people continue to rely on plastic water bottles and their unfailing availability around our cities.
Though refillable bottles are an attractive alternative, they are still not as convenient as single-use bottles. Mainly, places to refill bottles are not as plentiful as places to buy single-use bottles.

If making environmentally conscious decisions requires significantly more effort, only the ideologically motivated will tend to make them. In order to encourage more people to opt for refillables, we need to make it more convenient to use them.

Venues across London are already trying to become refillable oriented. Through the #OneLess Design Fellowship we got to interview sustainability officers at venues such as The Natural History Museum, Lord’s Cricket Ground, and King’s College London and hear about the challenges they’re facing.
A conversation with the sustainability officer at Lord’s Cricket Grounds

A conversation with the sustainability officer at Lord’s Cricket Grounds

Trying to figure out why everyone wasn't just using refillables, we found several significant factors actively blocking this habit change.
1. High Costs on Installing New Fountains
Many venues lack sufficient refill infrastructure - their fountains are either few and far between, not easily accessible, or not fit for purpose. For example, some fountains’ design might allow for drinking from the tap but not for refilling a water bottle. However, installing new fountains requires a financial investment that is not always available.

2. Invisibility of Existing Fountains
The gaps in infrastructure are exacerbated by existing fountains being installed in out of the way places where they are very easy to miss. This means often only the truly determined  know their whereabouts and use them.

3. Context Constraints
Different venues have different needs and require context specific solutions. The Natural History Museum, for example, is a grade I listed building and cannot take changes easily. Lord’s Cricket Ground on the other hand, has massive crowds that often move together during breaks, also creating challenges.

4. Misconceptions about Tap Water
Tap water has a bad reputation. In contrast to mineral water, which has vast advertising budgets extolling it, tap water has no one selling the public on its merits. Some tourists might even be understandably wary of tap water if it is unsafe in their home country. They might not be aware that tap water in the UK is strictly monitored, and not only that, it has to adhere to a standard of regulation which mineral water is exempt from.

5. Reliance on Revenue from Water Bottles
Some venues might have gotten used to the steady revenue stream generated from plastic water bottle sales. In such cases, even if they are motivated to reduce plastic waste, their agenda might be conflicted.
Considering these obstacles,
How might we leverage existing infrastructure to design immediate, context specific, and financially viable solutions?
The Monster
Your eyes do not deceive you, we have invented a tentacled mobile water fountain.
Technical sketch
Water Monsters are mobile drinking fountains designed for a range of urban venues and outdoor environments.
The Way it Works
It's very simple.
The Monsters collect drinking water from existing fountains and taps, by connecting to them with their special tentacles. They store this water inside large volume kegs.

They travel in a set route close by to their main taps and offer this water to thirsty people they encounter.

For a small fee, the Monsters offer a choice of flavours and herbs to add to the water. This serves both to replace the current revenue venues make from bottled water and to increase desirability for customers.

Each Monster is operated by a 'Keeper', since they are not yet sentient.
Beyond hydrating the capital, Water Monsters function as a living campaign to engage people, ease stigma around tap water, and normalize refill culture.
This project was presented during the 2018 London Design Week, as well as the 2018 Disruptive Innovation Festival, and was received with enthusiasm.
However, in order to become the urban utility we envisioned it to be, funding is still required for prototypes and pilots. Hit us up at watermonsters@gmail.com if you have any leads.