Nearly every minute of every day, water is bottled and shipped around the United States by truckload, despite a robust water infrastructure. Why? Packaged water has identified a lingering distrust in the American consumer and capitalized on it, creating a multi-billion dollar industry in the process that generates massive global carbon emissions. Kadeya is a closed-loop hydration system on a mission to bridge the gap between trust in tap and bottled water, disrupting the current inefficient linear beverage supply chain.
The Water Trust Crisis
It is not surprising that Americans distrust the tap. A study from the National Resources Defense Council estimated that in 2019, 44% of Americans lived in communities with health-based violations, the most severe infraction of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)1. While much of the water system is safe, highly publicized events with real merit, like the crisis in Flint, Michigan and Jackson, Mississippi, sow distrust in tap water quality.
That seed of doubt sprouts into real problems. An estimated 61 million Americans2 don’t drink their tap water, regardless of the quality of their local system, a number estimated to be on the rise. That is a substantial proportion of Americans avoiding otherwise safe tap water, leading to a series of problems. First, people are incurring increased, unnecessary costs for filter systems and bottled water. Second, when people do not drink water, they’re more likely to drink sugary beverages. Third, shifting the water load to bottled water has substantial environmental implications, generating increased carbon emissions and waste which fall to the government to attempt to address.
Bridging the Gap
To bridge the gap, we need to both address water quality problems where they exist and communicate tap water quality clearly and easily with consumers, especially in areas where the water is safe to drink. Kadeya is tackling both of those needs at the point of use.
Kadeya is the world’s first closed-loop hydration system; it may look like a vending machine at first glance, but there is a lot more going on underneath. While the kiosk dispenses beverages just like a traditional vending machine, that is where the similarities end. The consumer returns the bottle to any station in the network once they’re done (think bike sharing, for bottles). Once returned, the patent-pending station washes, sanitizes, inspects and refills the bottles, in-unit.
Kadeya is headquartered in Chicago and likens itself to the popular Divvy Bikes: users scan a personal Kadeya code to dispense a bottle, all of which have a laser-etched serialized QR code on the bottom making each bottle unique and digitally identifiable forever. By linking each de-identified user (the Kadeya codes are anonymously assigned) to each bottle, Kadeya is able for the first time ever to “digitize hydration.” Kadeya can attribute consumption to the individual, which company employees call “Final Foot Data.”
Final Foot Data enables Kadeya to understand the throughput and utilization rates across the entire network of stations, as well as per station, per bottle, and per user, while protecting individual data privacy. With Kadeya, users can understand and monitor their hydration, helping them predict and prevent heat injury, illness, and death from heat on worksites. Users can set personal targets for hydration, and even carbon and waste reduction goals. While we identify unique users, we don’t capture personal identifying information. This de-identified data is aggregated to help corporations optimize teams’ hydration and allow sustainability managers to easily integrate carbon reduction and waste reduction metrics into ESG reports.
With the Alpha prototype today, one bottle distributed by Kadeya is 64% less GHG intensive than a PET water bottle, and 67% less GHG intensive than an aluminum container, on a per use basis and assuming the same volume of liquid. Kadeya estimates its Beta prototype will be 95% less GHG intensive compared to the single-use alternative and aims to reach 99% lower intensity over time. The system sources water directly from the existing water infrastructure, immediately and almost entirely eliminating the repetitive production and distribution of single-use containers, a major source of Kadeya’s carbon improvements. After the water is connected to the system, the station filters the water using activated carbon and ion exchange filters plus membrane microfiltration technology to provide water at a higher quality than bottled water, right from the local water supply.
Local water quality can vary. Kadeya’s system is set to maximize quality from most U.S. (United States) based systems. A recent in-depth study by State University of New York at Fredonia found 94% of U.S. tap water is contaminated with microplastics, the highest proportion of all tap water tested globally.3 The smallest microplastic particles detected in a study published in 2022 in the journal Environment International and submitted by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam were 0.7 micron.4 With the current filter set up, Kadeya can remove particulate matter larger than 0.2 microns, meaning 99.999% of microplastics, bacteria and parasites that are typically present in even SDWA compliant tap water systems – as well as most contaminates.
Addressing Water Trust
Bottled water is often equated to higher quality, but it can be difficult for consumers to verify the real quality of that water. Consumers sometimes need to dig through layers of websites to learn the details of what is in their bottled water – if that information has even been shared. There is much more centralized data on public water systems, but many consumers do not know where to find it – nor have the time to sort through and interpret the data.
Because Kadeya scans each bottle individually, in future releases, the QR code on the bottom of the bottle could provide detailed data on the water quality, provenance, supply chain, even treatment methodologies. Users could get granular data on water quality with a simple scan of their phone covering a mix of static and dynamic information. In the case of water systems with great quality water, consumers could see how well the existing tap infrastructure performs, and finally have a reliable, local, just-in-time reference on which to build up lost trust. This can increase confidence in the overall system. In areas where water quality needs to be improved, Kadeya’s real-time data could allow consumers to understand legitimate concerns – while providing a safe alternative.
Hydration and water quality is crucial to health and that impact is magnified in professions that require more manual labor. NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) recommends workers drink at least 8 oz per hour and as much as 32 oz per hour on days where the heat index is over 80F5. That requires either a lot of bottle refills or – when water is not available or workers don’t trust the water system – a lot of plastic bottles. It is a logistical nightmare for facility and general managers and often falls to the bottom of the list of to-dos, only rising to the top on an as-needed, reactive basis.
Kadeya aims to make healthy hydration preventive, even predictive. Last year, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) launched a new National Emphasis Program, expanding inspection and focusing on heat illness prevention across the country. The program entails outdoor and indoor worksites across 70 industries. In addition, OSHA plans to release a new heat standard, expanding a rigorous set of heat illness prevention guidelines beyond standards currently seen only in a few states. If OSHA decides to include the current NIOSH recommendations, the requirements will stipulate the addition of electrolytes, varying depending on hours worked, type of work performed, individual habits and body measurements, plus pre-existing conditions. Trying to manage these numerous inputs is very difficult for workers, let alone corporations that employ and seek to support a healthy industrial workforce.
Lower-income and minority households are more likely to drink bottled water in their homes, attributable to both lower levels of education and lower levels of trust in tap water. Between 2011 and 2014, 53% of Hispanic adults and 46% of black adults consumed bottled water on a given day compared to just over 26% of white adults. At the same time, more than 61% of white adults consumed tap water on a given day, compared to 38% of black adults and just over 38% of Hispanic adults6. Kadeya is focused on improving water quality and trust for these communities while eliminating plastic waste and carbon emissions.
A serial climate-tech entrepreneur, Manuela Zoninsein has a strong passion for sustainability and the efficient use of resources. Zoninsein is no stranger to the work – she has established three companies – one in Beijing, one in Brazil, and now Kadeya.