How the Fritz Water Vest Uses Flexible Packaging to Help the Water Crisis
While in the Dominican Republic, the creators of the Fritz Water Vest saw first hand just how dire the need is for easier water transport and purification, according to the organization's website. The team witnessed people carrying buckets of water over dangerous terrain, and the water was not purified, containing bacteria and parasites.
Fritz Yambrach, the founder of Fritz Water Vest, a registered trademark of the non-profit Solutions Inc., recalled first seeing images of people struggling with water as a child, and decided to turn to packaging to see if there was a way he could help.
“I remember seeing women and children carrying water in filmstrips as a student in grade school,” Yambrach said in an email correspondence. “When I saw those images as an adult I began thinking about what technologies we employ in the packaging industry that could solve some of their problems and improve their daily lives.”
Yambrach, the director of packaging at San Jose State University, worked with a team including Eric Steigelman, of Bonfire Wines; Michael Robinson, of Colgate Palmolive; Sal Pellingra of ProAmpac; and Russ Smith of Heritage Packaging to create a wearable flexible packaging-style vest that is meant to make transporting and storing water easier and more sanitary in developing countries.
To solve the purification problem, the vest contains a Sawyer Water Filter to purify the water and can be hooked up to a hose, so up to 20 lbs. of water can easily be purified as it is dispensed. The vest design also allows the weight of the water to be evenly distributed. Each vest costs $5 and is distributed by Solutions Inc.
For its role in using packaging to help curb a significant global concern, the makers of the Fritz Water Vest were awarded the Diamond Award, the highest honor at the DuPont Awards for Packaging Innovation, on May 22.
David Luttenberger, global packaging director for Mintel and one of the judges at the DuPont Awards, thought the vest was a simple design, but its brilliance and ingenuity was in its simplicity. Luttenberger compared the device to a gas tank, because the water remains still and the weight of the water is balanced making it easier for people to transport it.
“One doesn’t have to be a package designer or engineer, or even a visionary humanitarian to see the simplicity and the genius of the Fritz Water Vest,” Luttenberger wrote in an email correspondence. “The very best package innovations today make emotional connections with consumers. They understand not only that it’s different, but they understand what that difference means to them; how it might make their life easier, more convenient or safer.”
Using his 40 years of experience in packaging engineering, Yambrach ensured that one unique advantage of the vest would be its material, which allows it to be used multiple times and makes transporting water more hygienic.
“I used my awareness of flexible packaging laminate structures, pouch heat sealing and basic design to come up with a product that is simple to manufacture, but utilizes a high tech material produced by ProAmpac,” Yambrach said.
While the two main purposes of packaging are typically considered to be protecting the product inside and communicating with consumers, Luttenberger says the Fritz Water Vest falls into a packaging category he calls “humanitarian packaging” — packaging that can have beneficial, life-changing effects on people.
“[Humanitarian packaging applications] have provided access to food, water and medicines to people in underdeveloped or underserved regions of the world,” Luttenberger said.
In addition to the main goal of easing access to clean water in developing parts of the world, the Fritz Water Vest creators were pleasantly surprised to find an unexpected, yet beneficial use of the vest — providing warm bath water. Because the vest is transparent, it can be left in direct sunlight, allowing the water in the vest to warm up, allowing people to take warm baths, instead of using cold water.
Luttenberger also felt that the Fritz Water Vest is just one example of how packaging can help create solutions to global problems.
“There really is no end to the role packaging can play in what I call ‘serving the underserved,’ Luttenberger said. “[The Fritz Water Vest] will exponentially raise awareness for humanitarian causes and how packaging can be a solution to the challenges behind those causes.”