You may remember Colalife, the group that set out to piggy-back onto Coca-Cola’s distribution network and use the gaps between bottles to deliver medicines. And then there’s Dean Kamen and his Slingshot water system, which uses developing world Coke kiosks as renewable energy and clean water distribution points.
Here’s a third idea that taps Coca-Cola’s global reach and uses it for social good – the lightie. It’s the brainchild of South African inventor Michael Suttner, who got to thinking about lighting for the poor. Many households in Africa depend on kerosene lamps for light, but they are smoky and dangerous and fueling them can cost as much as 25% of their income. Solar lights are clean and reliable, and there are no ongoing fuel costs. They’re increasingly available, but Suttner noticed that they weren’t really reaching those who needed them most, and not at an affordable price.
The challenge then was to make a solar light that was cheap, and that could be mass produced and widely distributed. That’s when Suttner struck on the idea of designing his solar light around a soft drinks bottle. If you can use the bottle as the lamp, the design just needs to focus on the lighting element itself – dramatically reducing the materials involved and the size of the light.
That’s the theory behind the lightie, a tiny solar light that screws into the top of a standard drinks bottle. Suttner is in discussions with Coke to see if they can be persuaded to distribute them too, and sell them alongside their drinks.
Over in Brazil, another inventor has done something even more simple. Where he lives, most people live in tin houses with no windows, and either don’t have or can’t afford electric light. He’s turned to Coke bottles too. He fills them with water, adds a couple of spoonfuls of bleach to keep the water clear, and embeds them in the roof. The sun refracts through the water and the bottle lights up like a light bulb. His simple idea has caught on, and could be in a million homes already.