Bottled water. It’s everywhere – you’ve probably got a bottle with you right now. I have.
Regardless of the fact that Melbourne has some of the world’s best water flowing free from its taps, we continue to pay collective millions for the packaged stuff, and looking at the stats, we’re not slowing down. In Australia, the industry is worth more than $600 million per year, which makes sense when you consider that we pay roughly four times the price of petrol for bottled water.
All this was running through the minds of the founders of Free Is Better, who, like the rest of us, often found themselves buying a bottle of water for the convenience, only to lose or throw the bottle away and buy another one the next day.
Founded by four young Melbournian entrepreneurs; Alex Chen, Caleb Ha, Hwi So and William Yau; Free Is Better aims to provide a different bottled business model, by providing it to consumers for free.
Launched in January this year, the Free Is Better model is inspired by the tissue packets handed out at railway stations and shopping centres in Japan. Like the tissues, Free Is Better can give their product away by charging for advertising on the bottles.
Initially, says marketing director Hwi So, it was a tough sell. “No one wanted to work with us ‘cos we were young, didn’t have much money and it was kind of a crazy idea.”
The water is bottled by Wet Fix, the same McPherson Ranges spring water source used by Thank You Water, and So says the company is working to find the most sustainable packaging they can.
“We were looking at packaging in cardboard drink boxes, but they’re not compatible with Australian recycling systems,” he says. “We’re also looking at plant-based soy inks for the labels, but unfortunately it’s not viable at this stage. Wet Fix is the only Australian company that uses oxo-biodegradable plastic bottles, and we’re looking to reduce our environmental impact further. We can’t ignore environmental concerns. It’s the most commented-on thing, so we have to be proactive about it.”
Free Is Better is partnering with events and has a street team which gives away water, but they're focusing on distribution through existing retail outlets. At the moment, you can find their water in record stores like Northside on Gertrude Street and Obese in Praharan, Mag Nation, Velo Cycles, Capsule in Emporium Melbourne, Sure Store, Beggar Man Thief and Up There.
If you've ever felt there's something a little preposterous about paying for something that should be free but you can never remember to take a bottle with you, there's now an alternative.