Can’t breathe? Have no fear, bottled air is here! Yes, you read that correctly. No, this is not a joke. Companies are bottling and selling air. Not just any air though: companies are selling the best of the best, thehighest quality air money can buy. The idea of bottled air might have started as a joke, but it is no laughing matter now. But don’t judge air by its bottle, air also comes in cans and even bags! Companies, such as Vitality Air, Aethaer, and Green and Clean, are making millions of dollars in this emerging industry. Many of these companies started as a joke, with some even selling bagged air on eBay. So then why sell air? Well, because people will actually buy it.
Leo De Watts is the founder of Aethaer, a British company with the goal that “buyers would come to regard [the] product as a collectible, like a sculpture or a limited-edition print made by an artist.”[i] How could air in a bottle become a collectible? De Watts notes that “clean air is actually a very rare commodity.”[ii] He’s not wrong. Places like India, China, and Southeast Asia are being choked by smog.
Pollution & The World Health Organization
Air pollution is defined as “contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.”[iii] In 2012, World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 12.6 million people died as a result of living or working in unhealthy environments.[iv] As of this year, 92% of the world’s population is living in an environment where the air quality exceeds WHO limits.[v] This means that only eight percent of the world’s population lives in an environment where the air quality meets WHO regulations. What are the risks of living and breathing polluted air? Overtime, as air quality declines, “the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases increases for the people who live in them.”[vi]
The Eastern World
Cities and towns in Southeast Asia, China, and India are being smothered by smog. When pollution levels are high in China, “you can definitely smell the pollution. Your eyes itch, you cough. It’s like a very rich, dense soup.”[vii] Until very recently, the Chinese government refused to address the issue of air pollution, let alone recognize that there was indeed air pollution. In December 2015, for the first time ever, Beijing issued a pollution red alert, canceling classes for days, pulled cars off the road, shut down barbeque stalls, and halted outdoor construction.[viii] A red alert is the highest level in a four-tier system. Some people have viewed the declaring of a red alert as a sign of progress because “[the government is] understanding how they should react and respond to these extreme conditions.”[ix] In 2015, Southeast Asia saw one of the worst, most prolonged period of haze. The haze spread to Malaysia, Singapore, the south of Thailand and the Philippines.[x] India also suffers from polluted air, mostly due to its major cities, like Delhi, having some of the highest vehicle density per kilometers in the region.[xi]
Back to Bottled Air
What does bottled air have to do with all of this? The market is exploding in places like China, India and Southeast Asia for an innovation that could possibly tackle the smog choking many cities. There are more practical innovations, such as air purifiers which can attach to outdoor towers or bikes and suck up smog, but bottled air represents an interesting innovation in the marketplace.[xii] Pan Li, who works in Beijing states that bottled air makes her lungs “feel clean…it might just be [her] imagination, but [she’s] willing to try anything.[xiii] And she’s not the only one. Green and Clean, an Australian bottled air company plans to ship 40,000 containers a month to China.
Aethaer’s website states that they are dedicated to “[providing] clean, fresh and pure natural air in bottled form,” and that Aethaer is “collected from fresh natural air flowing over a range of prime locations from fertile lush pastures and wild untouched meadows, to wind-kissed hilltops and heavenly snow-capped mountains.”[xiv] This might sound wonderful and amazing, but in reality, “an individual requires a minimum of eight to ten packed bottles every minute to breathe.”[xv] So why are people buying bottled air? Fortunately, many are buying it as gag gifts or as Leo De Watts stated, as collectibles. But there are many people, like Pan Li, families with children, athletes, and business executives alike, that genuinely think bottled air is the answer for all of the problems. Whether or not they’re right or wrong, companies are making millions of dollars because hundreds of thousands of people are buying bottled air.
Jasmine Pope is a second year law student at the University of Baltimore. She graduated from Towson University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science, with a minor in History. Jasmine is extremely interested in and passionate about international human rights, particular the rights of women and children. She also participated in the Summer Study Abroad Program in Aberdeen, Scotland. She has also studied abroad in Benalmádena, Spain. Currently, she serves as the Secretary for the International Law Society. Jasmine is currently a member of the Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Team. Jasmine is also a Staff Editor for the Journal of International Law and works for the Law Office of Hayley Tamburello.
[i] Javier Hernandez and Emily Feng, “Selling Air (a.k.a. the Idea They Thought of Next)” October 31, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/world/what-in-the-world/china-bottled-air-pollution.html.
[ii] Javier Hernandez and Emily Feng, “Selling Air (a.k.a. the Idea They Thought of Next)” October 31, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/world/what-in-the-world/china-bottled-air-pollution.html.