Checkett began to work on the project in October 2021 as part of her elementary school's science fair.
Every time Madison Checketts visited the coast around Escondido, California, on family vacations, she could not stop noticing the plastic water bottles that were scattered about on the beach and the ocean. The 12-year-old strongly felt this needed to change. That's why she ended up creating the Eco-Hero, a gelatinous water bottle that is actually edible, reports Smithsonian Magazine.
Checkett began to work on the project in October 2021 as part of her elementary school's science fair. She went on to compete in the school district's science fair and won first place at a state science fair before going on to a national championship. She was also named one of the 30 finalists in the 2022 Broadcom Masters Competition, a premier science and technology competition for middle school students.
Checkett always knew that she wanted to work on reducing plastic pollution. The idea for Eco Hero stemmed from internet research about reverse spherification. It is apparently a method of enclosing a liquid in a gel membrane. She began to wonder if she could make an edible water bottle through this process.
Checkett based reverse spherification on a chemical reaction between two common food additives—a salt called calcium lactate and a natural polymer found in brown algae called sodium alginate. When mixed together, the chemicals form a cross link which creates a gel membrane that traps the liquid.
After trial and error, Checketts was able to finalize a prototype by mixing calcium lactate, xanthan gum (a food additive and a thickening agent), lemon juice and water in a blender. She then froze the calcium lactate solution in a rectangular mold and kept the frozen rectangle in a sodium alginate solution, rotating it until the membrane started to form. Once the membrane formed in seven minutes, she removed the membrane from the sodium alginate solution and put it in a bath of distilled water to stop the formation process. She then let the edible water bottle sit in the fridge submerged in a mix of lemon juice and water. It reportedly lasts for three weeks before the membrane bursts.
Moreover, the Eco-Hero has the capacity to hold up to three-quarters of a cup of water and costs about $1.20 to make. A person just has to bite a hole at the top of the membrane and drink the water. In the end, one can either throw away the membrane or eat it. The best part about the membrane is that it is bio-degradable.
According to the talented pre-teen, the drink tastes like water with a hint of lemon while the membrane has the texture of a gummy bear and tastes a little bit lemony but has no taste once one begins to chew it.
Talking about the future of the Eco-Hero, Checkett said that she wants to improve the water bottle and make it resealable, stronger and bigger. She thinks that it could be used at marathons and races at runner stops. Moreover, she hopes that this encourages people to think sustainably and know that everyone can make the world a better place.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be in a big way," said Checketts. "[People] can still make a difference in the world, even if it's just in a small way."
Across the world, humans purchase around 1.3 billion single-use plastic water bottles a day. Only about 9% of plastic is recycled. Madison Checketts came across a website about “reverse spherification,” She would design an edible water bottle called the Eco-Hero. pic.twitter.com/6jnyCq9MNK— philopol (@val_muchowski) December 22, 2022