In the 1990s, I recall my grandfather remarking upon the new ubiquity of plastic water bottles, “When did everybody get so thirsty all of a sudden?” Indeed, plastic bottles have been proliferating at an exponential rate since the 1970s – the US alone is responsible for tens of billions of single-use plastic bottle waste every year. This week on Sea Change Radio, we take a look at the bottled water industry through the eyes of a relatively small but innovative player in the space. CEO and co-founder of FloWater, Rich “Raz” Razgaitis, joins us to tell us about his company’s product, its mission to help curb America’s seemingly bottomless thirst for single-use plastic bottles, and the ways the bottled water industry is similar to Big Tobacco.
00:02 Narrator – This is Sea Change Radio covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.
00:20 Rich Razgaitis (RR) – The solution is create a product so that bottled water is not a necessity in 99% of the cases, and that’s what we’re focused on is building a new platform and a new way of water that eliminates the need for single use packaged water.
00:36 Narrator – In the 1990s, I recall my grandfather remarking upon the new ubiquity of plastic water bottles, “When did everybody get so thirsty all of a sudden?” Indeed, plastic bottles have been proliferating at an exponential rate since the 1970s – the US alone is responsible for tens of billions of single-use plastic bottle waste every year. This week on Sea Change Radio, we take a look at the bottled water industry through the eyes of a relatively small but innovative player in the space. CEO and co-founder of FloWater, Rich “Raz” Razgaitis, joins us to tell us about his company’s product, its mission to help curb America’s seemingly bottomless thirst for single-use plastic bottles, and the ways the bottled water industry is similar to Big Tobacco.
01:43 Alex Wise (AW) – I’m joined now on Sea Change Radio by Rich “Raz” Razgaitis. He is the CEO and Co-founder of FloWater. Raz, welcome to Sea Change Radio.
01:52 Rich Razgaitis (RR) – Thanks so much. Great to be here, Alex. Appreciate you having me on the show.
01:55 Alex Wise (AW) – So FloWater is a pretty cool idea. Tell us what the company makes, how FloWater Works, and what your company’s mission.
02:04 Rich Razgaitis (RR) – So FloWater is a company that’s fundamentally focused on changing the way that we think of water and specifically drinking water. And that basically is everything from how water is treated, transported and consumed. So if you look at the big problem that we see in the market that we’re solving for single use plastic water bottles. The reason that people are using single use plastic water bottles and I’m sure we’ll talk about some of the stats and the impact of that later. But the reason that people are using them is primarily because they don’t like what’s coming out of their tap water and we don’t have a problem in the US called if I could only find a faucet, we have a problem called. I really don’t like what’s coming out of the faucet or I don’t trust it. And So what FloWater is is a solution to that. And what we’re doing is we’re building a set of water products that tap into, no pun intended, but you will end up being amazed at how many water puns there are by the end of this podcast that we, we kind of take for granted and don’t realize, but what FloWater does is taps into any available water line and takes regular tap water and turns it into the world’s best tasting, best drinking, best hydrating water kind of on demand like a beer tap in a way, but with water through this very powerful purification system. So we build these FloWater devices right now, we’ve got FloWater refill stations that. Out in primarily the B2B sector. And then we also have other products that are FloWater, faucet filters and someday FloWater countertop units, both of which will be or are available for the consumer home. So kind of in essence, the whole strategy of our company is to change the way the world thinks about water and had to use kind of, I suppose a buzzword, but I mean it is to democratize water in the sense that we believe everyone deserves access to clean drinking water, that they can trust that is not available today and our job is to solve that and make FloWater available for wherever consumers work for us.
04:03 Alex Wise (AW) – We haven’t really addressed the single use plastic bottle issue in a few months, at least here on Sea Change Radio. So why don’t you recap where we are as a society and where the water industry has been flowing because you said we’re going to be working on a lot of water puns today.
04:24 RR – Yeah, we should see how many we can incorporate.
04:25 AW – Exactly. Where is the industry flowing, Raz?
04:30 RR – So if you look at, I mean just starting first with the problem and you know if we go back 50 years, I mean no one, no one’s drinking out of single use plastic water bottles. So from up to 50 years ago and then however many thousands of years prior or 10s of thousands or millions of existence. There was number single use plastic water bottle for transporting water. I mean literally, actually literally what was happening is for the most part, civilization will get set up, oftentimes, basically focused around where you could get fresh drinking water, you know, you create villages around wells or nearby tributaries or rivers, and until you know in the 70s, really packaged water didn’t start to become a thing primarily with Perrier and then like 70s. 80s single use plastic water bottles and what has happened with this proliferation of plastics that we’re using worldwide, but particularly single use plastic PET bottles just the US alone, just the US alone last year. Americans used about 50 billion single use plastic water bottles at most. At most, 20% of those get recycled. A lot of the data is really more closer to single digits, like high single digits, low double digits, but at most it’s it’s in the low 20s. If you look at the most favorable data around recycling and so the problem is. Really fundamentally, #1 consumers don’t like what’s coming out of their tap water. That’s why they don’t like it, they don’t trust it. They don’t like it because that’s chlorine in it or it smells funny or tastes funny or it’s got dissolved solids, or it has glyphosate, which is another chemical component that didn’t exist 50 years ago but started using it. Actually just about 50 years ago, late or early 70s, started getting used agriculturally, so almost 50 years ago. So now we have water that consumers don’t like, don’t trust and single use PETs, kind of solved that problem in some ways, but they also created a market to some degree where initially none really needed to exist so you know kind of the absurdity of it is that we’re wrapping tap water and plastic shipping it all over the country, delivering it to people drinking these bottles, using them one time, putting them probably in the trash. And they end up in oceans, Lakes, rivers and landfills. So over 40 billion single use plastic water bottles from the US alone last year ended up not in the recycling bin, not making it through recycling, and when it ends up when a bottle ends up in the ocean, what basically happens is it photo degrades it that plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it photo degrades and what photo degradation means is one piece turns it to 248163264 until it’s in micro and nano particulate form and then when that happens, animals start eating it, you know, sea life starts ingesting. It starts making its way into our waterways and into our municipal water treatment. And so today, and I’ll kind of end on this. Today, when you drink one liter of water, chances are that if you’re drinking one liter of water, either from a bottle or from the tap, you’re ingesting over 300 micro particulates of plastic in that liter of water. So we’re literally now drinking our bottled water. I mean, that’s what has happened. It’s a little bit like, you know, I use a lot of smoking analogies with big bottled water. I think there’s a ton of analogies and comps between big tobacco and ‘60s and ‘70s and big bottled water in the ‘20s and one of those is, you know, looking at second hand smoke. I mean, can you imagine sitting in a coffee shop right now where there’s forty non-smokers and three smokers and how much people would be losing their minds if someone was smoking because, you know, even if you’re not smoking, you’re smoking. If you’re sitting next to someone that’s smoking, cause the second hand smoke. It’s exact same thing with single use plastics. We’re now literally drinking our bottled water. Even if you’re not a bottle of water drinker, and that’s the problem that we’re solving for.
08:32 AW – Yes, I mean, watching the impeachment hearings, let’s say there’s some impeachment manager who’s making a rousing speech or whatever politician you may be rooting for is out there doing a great job. But then I just can’t help but cringe when they pick up a plastic bottle and drink from it. And that’s just what everybody’s getting on the on the Senate floor during these impeachment hearings, generally people.
08:54 RR – That’s so funny, I noticed that as well and they’re the small ones. They’re the small ones too. It’s like the worst of the worst. Like, the smaller the bottle, the more plastic per milliliter and the more wasteful it is. I’d feel a lot better if they were at least holding like a big gallon jug. Then I would know that they’re hydrating a lot and that they would be minimizing their plastic consumption. But there are these tiny little bottles. I know I’ve noticed it as well.
09:16 AW – Well, Speaking of that, so the plastic industry has gotten kind of a get out of jail free card with the pandemic. Maybe you can speak to some of the efforts that they’ve made to try to reinvigorate their market and prey on people’s fears about not just drinking water, but also plastic bags at the grocery store. Like a lot of plastic bag bans, have been lifted during this last year.
09:41 RR – Right, right. I think bottled water companies will behave like bottled water companies. And I think during the pandemic, you know, of course they, they took advantage of market winds in their favor, which I think were largely temporary when consumers are trying to stock up. I mean probably the one thing that stored water is good for is for an emergency use basis but he reality is, if I just look at this from a consumer perspective, the thing I would much prefer to have in my house is something that takes tap water, that is generally recognized as a safe product. And take something and make it better rather than touching more pieces of packaging that have been transported and handled in a retail store like I’d like to just use less of that stuff from an environmental perspective, but also from a COVID perspective. So what we saw over the last year and of course there was a big spurt of packaged water sales and a lot of other products for a period of time. We’re also seeing a major counterbalance to that where this plastic issue is not going away. I mean, this this ten years ago, eight years ago, six years ago with like, eliminating plastic and it being destructive, the environment was kind of relegated to being maybe more of like a hippie, or a hipster or an environmental movement. And you know, and I remember having people tell me that as I was talking pitching programming, working with them on what we were doing now, it’s clearly mainstream. I mean it’s this is an unequivocal mega trend away from plastic to a world of un-cycling and that’s really what we’re focusing on, which is how do we get a product consumers that they love. More than the product, they’re currently buying single use plastics so that we don’t have to even have single use plastics enter the ecosystem. That’s the solution. The solution isn’t making it more environmentally friendly and using more post recycled consumer waste or making the cap 20% smaller or making the bottle with like a green stamp to make the consumers feel good about it, and greenwash the solution is create a product so that bottled water is not a necessity in 99% of the cases. And that’s what we’re focused on is building a new platform and a new way of water that eliminates the need for single use package water.
11:59 (Music Break)
13:07 AW – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio and I’m speaking to the Co-founder and CEO of FloWater, Rich “Raz” Razgaitis. So Raz, we’ve profiled water companies and water filtration systems on Sea Change Radio over the years that are trying to solve one problem, which is in developing countries where there’s not safe, clean drinking water, getting safe, clean drinking water to the population there. FloWaters mission and seems a little more America focused right now. At least you’re still a smaller company. You’re not a big multinational. Why don’t you explain the price points and the sweet spot of your business is demographic.
13:50 RR – Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think it’s a good summary. I mean, we’re really trying to focus first and foremost on the problem that we have in the United States, which is 50 billion single use plastic water bottles were used last year and we can and we can crush that number by simply getting consumers a product that they love. And so our focus primarily. We have signed 4 deals just in the last six months with international partners. We have several more that are in orbit right now and various markets and Asia in Europe and also in Mexico, so part of North America, but we also have a deal that’s pending in Mexico right now. So we’re signing global international distribution partnerships to start to make our way there. But still 99% of our focus is domestic US and solving the single use plastic water bottle crisis or what is becoming a crisis, and also by the way, another problem that we’re solving for is that 70% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. So not only are we using a lot of single use plastic water bottles, but we’re not drinking enough water. You know, we’re drinking a lot of sugary carbonated caffeinated drinks in lieu of drinking enough water, and so our focus primarily is B2B as well as moving into B2C. And when I say B2B, we’re over the last six years, we have been fixated on hotels, schools, corporations, gyms, retailers. Essential businesses, you know, moved a lot into manufacturing facilities, distribution facilities. Our school business has just absolutely exploded in the last 6 to 12 months. And one example is we’re replacing there’s 10 million water fountains in the US there are 5.5 million five gallon jugs and 1.5 million black box water coolers. Those are all in the US today, so our primary focus is on replacing those and particularly water fountains. I mean, if you just look at what’s happened to our business in the last six months, our school business has grown by, I don’t know what the exact percentage is, but it’s got to be well into the triple digits in terms of percentage year over year growth and that’s because you know who wants to use a water fountain right now. I mean you don’t want to fill up your bottle in a water fountain or a hydration station where someone has. And maybe dribbling or drinking over it. I mean, you didn’t want to do that before the pandemic, but especially with COVID, like no one’s touching that stuff. And so what we’re doing in schools is we’ve got a product that’s contact list, touch lists, that installs and deploys into a school, you know, any location in like 40-45 minutes, no drilling, no big piping done hooks into a water line. We’re putting them next to or replacing water. And we’re seeing students drink two to five, fold more water with a system that’s contactless that also has a really powerful purification system built into it. And we can provide that to a school for $4.00 a day. I mean, most of our products are leased, not all of them. I mean we typically will either sell the product for. The sticker price on it is around $7500 per unit. We do similar to Apple, you know, we’ll provide school discounts that are much more substantial than that for that market segment. That’s about the only market segment that buys most customers. What they do is they lease at $125.00 a month. Multi year lease and it’s $4.00 a day effectively for unlimited flow, water on demand and that’s our primary B2B business segment and a use case around that and then we’re also building out a consumer and a retail channel as well. So we are launching and delivering this month actually FloWater ready to drink. And that’s pre filled in aluminum vessels. So the idea behind this is if you’re going to reach for a single use plastic water bottle instead, reach for a FloWater for a couple bucks, you can get a reusable aluminum vessel, use it 351015 times. And that is going to be infinitely better for the environment. And aluminum is infinitely recyclable and ideally fill that up at a FloWater refill station and that kind of migrates us into the consumer household where earlier this year we launched FloWater faucet filter. It would be like having a kind of a light version of a FloWater refill station that you screw onto your. Low water faucet and you can have FloWater on demand at home so.
18:11 AW – You mentioned the filtration system and that seems to be kind of the core selling point of your technology. It uses coconut fibers and it makes very tasty water, apparently. Is that in a nutshell, how you separate from your average much cheaper water cooler?
18:30 RR – Yeah, I think that’s a, I mean that’s a good nutshell summary, the way I would describe it, #1A flow, water refill station removes all the bad stuff from your tap water. So for example, in your tap water, there are things like microplastics, chlorine. Some people have kind of varying views on fluoride, but let’s just stick with lead chlorine, glyphosate, glyphosate is a chemical compound that’s commonly known as branded product called Roundup, and that’s made its way into our waterway as well. You do not want to be drinking that stuff. And what’s happened is that glyphosate. Is so permeated, you know? Tributaries that have flowed for hundreds and thousands of miles that you are now seeing glyphosate show up in all sorts of places and concentrations where, for example, municipal water is never intended. I mean, municipal does an amazing job considering how much. Stuff we have thrown at and into our tap water microplastics. One example, glyphosate is another example. But even if you just take something like chlorine. You know, it’s very it’s not controversial at all to say that. Almost every consumer would vastly prefer to be drinking water that doesn’t have chlorine, and I mean chlorine in high enough doses is is it’s not good for you, but even a micro dose is it does things like. Upsets the intestinal flora, which has a huge immune effect and has you know all these other kind of bio. Biome effects in your body and so not having chlorine in your tap water would be a great thing. Why do you have to have chlorine? Well, it’s important for the delivery, right? You get it from municipal to your house. You need something that that that protects and preserves. And keeps the bacteria and virus free. So for example, what if the water system does is remove all that stuff at the point of dispense. The second thing that a FloWater unit does is remineralize those waters. So the FloWater refill station, what it does is it remineralizes and reactivates that water with things that are healthy and essential for you, for taste as well as, you know, absorption. And then the third thing is we use coconut carbon shells that have been carbonated and the water kind of runs through that coconut carbon husk and shell as a finishing filter, and it makes it into something that tastes incredible, and it’s like having the freshest water on demand that you would prefer to your favorite bottled water. Not intended to sound like a commercial for the product, but I’m personally obsessed with it and people that are consumers are. And so it’s hard for me not to talk with a little bit of excitement about the product itself, but that’s what makes it different versus tap water. I mean, it’s like having a bottling plant. It’s like having a miniature bottling plant. In your home or in your office or in your school, where you’re just having the world’s best tasting water on demand, constantly available at the press of a button.
21:27 (Music Break)
22:24 AW – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio and I’m speaking to the Co-founder and CEO of FloWater Rich “Raz” Razgaitis. So, Raz, how does a company like FloWater you, you say one of your goals is to help eliminate the 50 billion single use plastic bottles used every year by Americans, how does a smallish company like FloWater start to bite into the seemingly endless profits of the Cokes and the Pepsis, who have have kind of captured the bottled water market and start influencing? And their marketing, do we have to do it through regulation or can the free market do it? Can competitors like FloWater make a difference?
23:10 RR – I love the question. I believe that it has to happen in the free market. I mean I I think getting consumers to do anything that they do not want to do, I think regulation is helpful, but they’ll just find a substitute for a regulation, right? I mean, if we don’t solve the problem which is. Get the drinking water at the point of dispense and kind of treat it twice in a way so that you can have access to clean, fresh, amazing tasting drinking water on demand. They’re just going to find, you know, it’s going to go from like single use plastic to single use. Corrugated is something else.
23:44 AW – Well, what about aluminum? You had mentioned how that’s a good alternative. The plastic seems like the Lacroixs of the world are exploding and that that segment of the market is taking over. And then we’re seeing the non-carbonated aluminum cans of water coming out as well. How does that stack up to a FloWater solution?
24:04 RR – Well, we are. We started over a year ago development. Maybe it was actually two years ago and then COVID slowed us down a little bit. But we are literally producing now and I have some sitting right here and and where I’m staying and FloWater, aluminum kind of prefilled vessels, my perspective on that is that’s a gateway. Literally that is not, you know, if that turned into a $50 million a year product that would literally be a gateway for us to ultimately get consumers to say, “oh, I love this FloWater that’s coming in a can. I’m using it 3-4 or five times,” which is ultimately the goal. But then it really is to also get them to say, hey, maybe I should have this on tap at home, like, why am I always buying FloWater ready to drink when I could also have it on tap? Kind of freely available in my gym or in my school or in my home. So we look at that as kind of a gateway. Product aluminum, I believe is far superior to single use PET because it is infinitely recyclable, but it’s only good if it ends up getting recycled and it’s also really only good if you end up. Refilling that vessel, I mean using it a couple 3-4 times, let’s just use an example of let’s just use an example of a single use standard PET model. The far, far, far majority of those only get used one time less than someday. Again, best data, 20% get recycled. More typical data is around 10% get recycle. Build if we can simply get a consumer to reuse an aluminum FloWater vessel 234 times. We’ve just seen a anywhere from 70 to 80% reduction in single use packaging and that’s a good thing. So the way that this actually changes, going back to the question that you asked, the way that this changes is yes, regulation is helpful because it raises a level of societal awareness around it. However, the only way that this really changes is by consumers driving demand. It’s not unlike, I mean I I don’t talk about policy. Other than other than at the end of the day is it is like voting which is you know, a lot of people historically have said, well, you know, my vote doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t really matter in this state, there’s 330 million Americans in the US, not all of them can vote. But I mean, there’s, you know, like I’m only one person. Well, the reality is one person multiplied at scale makes a massive difference in companies. Hotels, schools, gyms, corporations, retailers, consumers, big bottled water, you know, service providers. They will change based on consumer sentiment and CVS and cigarettes is a great example. Nobody remembers, nobody knows who the second company is that stopped selling cigarettes in pharmacies. Everyone remembers the number one company that did so, and that was CVS and that was probably five years ago and why they do it was totally off brand. I mean, it’s really kind of an insane idea that the pharmacy that is really supposed to be around to Orient it around healthcare Wellness treatment is also selling all sorts of packaged crap and nicotine – highly addictive nicotine products. So CVS stopped doing that and it was largely driven by a, I think some repurposing and like realigning vision and mission for that company. But it is also driven by consumer behavior saying this is not like we should stop doing this and that will be what is the catalyst for changing the way of single use plastic water bottles, I mean one of the ways it helps us, for example. Just around the cause is if you follow us on social media and justice, raise a level, follow other great nonprofit organizations like Plastic Pollution Coalition, Oceana, you know, and companies and organizations and nonprofits that are oriented around A cause that will affect a sea change upon #12.
27:48 AW – Well, the company is called FloWater. That’s F-L-O Water. Co-founder and CEO Rich “Raz” Razgaitis, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.
28:00 RR – Thanks for having me. It’s great talking to Alex.
28:17 Narrator – You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis, and our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by Grant Green, The Bellamy Brothers and the Grateful Dead. Check out our website at SeaChangeRadio.com to stream or download the show or subscribe to our podcast. Visit our archives there to hear from Bill McKibben, Van Jones, Paul Hawken and many others and tune in to Sea Change Radio next week as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.