The Grail of Life: An Interview with GRAYL
So long as water is the basis of human life on Earth, there will always be a lot of interest and intrigue that goes along with it. But despite the improvements in sanitation technology and knowledge over the years, millions of people around the world still lack access to clean, safe drinking water. Recent estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that 780 million people around the globe lack access to an improved water source, defined by things like a piped household water connection and rainwater collection.
This isn’t just a matter of clean, nice tasting water either, as millions of people are affected by diseases such as trachoma and diarrheal diseases as a result of this lack of access. Even populations with access to safe drinking water still possess water related problems of their own, most notably the rise of plastic water bottles and the associated problems with waste that have come along with it.
GRAYL was founded in response to both of these problems, as it sought a way to combine the need for clean, purified water with the desire for convenience driving the plastic water bottle trend. The result was GRAYL’s Ultralight Purifier bottle, reusable and easy to use in order to filter and purify water sources all across the world. The bottle relies a simple press mechanism to clean water, and is useful for international travel, outdoor adventuring, and emergency situations.
I spoke with GRAYL CEO Andrew Weber to learn more about the challenges of traditional purifying methods, GRAYL’s unique solution, and the Ultralight Purifier bottle.
In the Photo: The GRAYL Ultralight Purifier bottle. Photo Credit: GRAYL.
How did Grayl first get started?
Andrew Weber: GRAYL was founded about six years ago by Nancie Weston and Travis Merrigan – two travelers who felt the methods of purifying water were too complex and failed to keep adventurers safe when traveling to destinations where virus level protection is needed. Additionally, due to the unfortunate convenience of bottled water, the number of single-use plastic water bottles used continued to grow. The purpose and mission of GRAYL is not only to provide travelers with safe, clean water, but also to provide on-the-go adventure travelers with a convenient way to purify (and filter) water, anywhere in the world.
A typical purifier has many moving parts and pieces, such as a hand pump, dirty hose, clean hose, dirty bag, clean bag, chemicals, etc. Unwrapping all the pieces, putting in water and pumping it into another vessel takes quite a bit of time and is not something travelers would typically do in a hotel sink in Guatemala, at a train station or at a river in Vietnam. The main market for purifiers was in the backpacking industry. Purification for on-the-go international travel was mainly addressed by the convenience of single-use plastic water bottles.
GRAYL positioned itself by asking, “How can we make the complex water purification process into something that you can do simply, on-the-go and from any water source anywhere in the world?” The inspiration came from a hand-pressed water toy in which you pull back on a handle to suck the water in before pushing it back through and soaking your friends. The idea was to leverage your bodyweight, to generate the force needed to push contaminated water across our purification and filtration cartridge.
Our products do an outstanding job of removing a full range of contaminants, including viruses. This is what separates us from not only being a filter, but a purifier as well. As a filter and purifier, GRAYL is able to remove viruses and bacteria in addition to heavy metals and chemicals, helping the water both taste and smell clean. Our hope is that GRAYL bottles will be convenient enough to deter travelers from purchasing single-use plastic bottles and start purifying their own water.
How do the mechanics of Grayl bottles work?
AW: In simple terms, we use the language “Fill, Press, Drink.” If you look at our bottle, it essentially has three different parts: the outer bottle, the inner bottle (which has the cartridge attached to it) and the cap. Whether you’re filling up at a hotel sink in Peru or a muddy river in Colombia, you simply separate the outer bottle from the inner bottle, fill the outer bottle from any freshwater source, and use the cap to press down. In fifteen seconds, the water will have passed through the filter, providing you with 16 ounces of purified and filtered water.
In the Photo: A GRAYL bottle filtering water. Photo Credit: GRAYL.
How are Grayl bottles made, and what are they made of?
AW: We actually use plastic in the production of our bottles. Plastic is an amazing material when used in a sustainable way. The same things that make it bad for our environment are also what make it a viable material. It’s lightweight, incredibly durable and doesn’t break down. When we go and buy a single-use plastic water bottle, we are satisfying a convenience before we discard it. Less than 10 percent of bottles are recycled, all of which remain on our planet and in our oceans for 200-300 years. When this plastic finally starts to biodegrade, it causes issues.
What’s great about the GRAYL Ultralight is that it’s lightweight and incredibly durable. We hope that GRAYL bottles will last people a lifetime, and that all they’re doing is replacing the cartridge throughout the lifetime of their product. We have a recycling program for the cartridges as well.
On your website you mention how Grayl works to give back to the environment and communities, could you talk about that in greater detail?
AW: This past year, GRAYL joined the organization 1% for the Planet. Companies who join are making the commitment to donate 1 percent of sales to good causes, which is a pretty big number for a small company to commit to. This money is going to organizations like The Conservation Alliance, Adventure Travel Conservation Fund, and other organizations that are protecting the places we love to recreate and find beauty in. This is our shared planet and these are the organizations that need our support.
In the Photo: The GRAYL Ultralight Purifier bottle. Photo Credit: GRAYL.
What do you hope the future of Grayl will be?
AW: To provide our amazing customers with the simplest way to safely purify and filter water wherever their adventure takes them. Additionally, we hope to raise awareness about the damaging effects of single-use plastic and encourage the protection of our public lands and shared environment.
Globally, we’re on track to manufacture half a trillion single-use plastic bottles in the next two to three years. Approximately 90 percent of those will not be recycled, which is why it’s such a mounting problem.
The consumption of single-use plastic bottles has been growing for the last 30 years in a row. There has never been a down year. We continue to consume single-use plastic out of convenience, which is why it’s so important to reverse the trend by creating other ways for people to conveniently access purified water. Whether it’s using GRAYL or something else, we want people to think about our single-plastic problem and know that there are solutions.