Our team of 4 created a simplistic, yet innovative way to solve one of the world's most pressing issues - water scarcity.

Photo of Aarushi Wadhwa
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Date You Started Your Project Started

Oct/17/2017 This is when the idea first came to us, since then we have continued extensive experiments, research, development.

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Our project is addressing the problem of the biggest water wastage in human water cycle on a global scale. Research and studies by UN and other agencies have shown that out of the 4 trillion m^3 of freshwater used per year, 75% is for agriculture and irrigation purposes. 50% of it goes to waste due over watering, evaporation, wind, and runoff. With water being such an essential part of sustaining our environment, we must reduce it's wastage.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

After brainstorming, researching, and discussing with experts like Master Gardeners and local nurseries, I came up with an innovative solution for the problem of water wastage associated with gardening and agriculture, called Aqua-Pods -- biodegradable sponges that are held inside pockets of cylindrical attachments lined with a weed sheet. The plant grows inside this attachment. When we water the plant, Aqua-Pods soak up the excess water, and when the plant needs water, the sponges release the previously absorbed water to the plants (using osmosis). I have conducted an experiment over 6 weeks and it successfully proves that the soil with Aqua-Pods has higher moisture content, and also retains water for a much longer period. The data shows that Aqua-Pods provides 3X water savings. Even if Aqua-Pods makes a difference by 1%, 8 billion m^3 of water is saved, which is more than the current global freshwater shortage. In addition, studies have shown that plants grow best in fertile soil – with optimal pH value, and high nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate levels. Aqua-Pods contain natural ingredients like coffee grounds, potato and banana peels that have proven to increase soil fertility

3. Using STEM as a force of good: Please specify how are you using STEM to solve for an environmental challenge you are passionate about.

We all know that water is crucial to life, nature and sustainability. As humans inhabiting this magnificent plant, it is our duty to make sure future generations can enjoy it as well, and the first and most important step to sustainability is to reduce the wastage of water. Luckily, we have Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) to help us! There are a few different STEM aspects to Aqua-Pods. This includes the fundamental scientific phenomenon of osmosis which allows the water initially soaked up by the Aqua-Pod sponge, a semi-permeable material, to be released to the plant when needed. This reduces water evaporation, and individuals don't have to worry about over-watering. Science also shows that natural ingredients such as potato peels and coffee grounds help fertilize soil and result in the optimal pH level for plant wellness. In order to create a prototype, we used the engineering design process to make the ideal contraption which could easily slide in and out of a variety of pots, and can hold several Aqua-Pod sponges. Using engineering, we were able to create different Aqua-Pod models to adhere to various environments from at-home gardening to large plantations.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

In middle school, I was president of my school’s environmental club. We were responsible for watering our school’s trees during the year. While watering these plants, I started to realize how much water was wasted. We would pour buckets of water for these trees, never knowing when we were over watering, and half of that water would be evaporated. Around the same time, I learned about the scientific phenomenon of osmosis – the movement of water from a region of high concentration to a region of low concentration, which results in an equal balance of concentration in both regions. This phenomenon always fascinated me and stuck in the back of my mind. While growing up, I occasionally helped with gardening and learned that my parents would use their tea bags as a soil fertilizer and balance the pH level. As a culmination of these learnings and experiences, the idea of Aqua-Pods was born.

5. Video (Keep it simple, a video made on a hand-held phone is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

We used the business model and engineering design process. After identifying the area of largest water consumption, we brainstormed solutions to reduce water wastage like recycling home water, developing special soil, and eventually came up with Aqua-Pods. After positive results from competitive analysis and extensive experiments, discussions and feedback from industry experts & the community, we finalized the idea and created a fully functional prototype and filed for a provisional patent.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Compared to existing solutions, Aqua-Pods offers a unique advantage of containing natural ingredients, like grounded coffee, potato and banana peels which increases fertility by adding potassium, phosphate, and nitrogen and providing an optimal pH value. Existing solutions, such as Hydrogels are effective in water retention, but are toxic and not suitable for plants. We have used the business model canvas and competitive analysis to make sure that our product is cost effective and better than existing solutions. We are currently have sales in person & Amazon and have several paying customers.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?

In the past three months, we have conducted a 6-week long experiment (in spring) to test the effectiveness of Aqua-Pods compared to normal soil. We have repeated this experiment over the past few years in different seasons to collect solid data. These extensive experiments continuously yield very positive results, as the plant with Aqua-Pods needed 3x less water to maintain the same moisture level, achieved the optimal pH value & quadrupled fertility. We have also done market trials and analysis by handing out around 30 of our Aqua-Pods to community members in order to receive feedback. Aqua-Pods are currently in use across the nation and in certain parts of the world - we have received positive responses. In addition, We have talked to local nurseries and gardening shops who all agree that Aqua-Pods are the right step forward and would be willing to partner with us to sell Aqua-Pods.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Aqua-Pods is a scalable solution and we plan to target a global consumer base across all agricultural market segments to make a positive impact in the world. We would like to reduce the manufacturing cost, which is currently $2, in order to make this even more cost-effective. Another step forward would be to build a strong brand and team to market this effective solution and also begin to mass produce Aqua-Pods. As a Corporate Social Responsibility component, we plan on distributing Aqua-Pods to countries which suffer from severe water scarcity. According to the UN around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer today from water scarcity, and I believe Aqua-Pods is the best step forward to save water.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

As president of my middle school environmental club, known as the Greenkeepers Club, I organized an annual Earth Day event where we shared a variety of ideas to promote environmental sustainability. I introduced games and informational booths like Rank the Lightbulbs, Earth Jeopardy, and our Green Clean Pledge, which catered to over 1000 students. We have also shared the idea of Aqua-Pods at several local events, as well as families of farmers and domestic gardeners to get their feedback.

11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

We can have other Changemakers involved with sharing the idea of Aqua-Pods in their own communities, and raise awareness about the important benefits. Utilizing social media platforms to not only encourage home gardening, but also effective water consumption with the idea of Aqua-Pods. As a group of like-minded individuals, we can start a national, if not global environment sustainability campaign to share ideas such as Aqua-Pods and inspire others to innovate for greater good.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

First, by utilizing social media platforms and encouraging home gardeners to cut down on their most wasteful water consumption - word of mouth will be incredibly powerful. We can look to feature our product at Farmer’s Markets and home gardening sites, pages, and magazines. The testimonies and published research & statistics will speak for themselves! Another important step forward will be to get Aqua-Pods on other avenues of online sales (Amazon for various countries), and other sites.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Sales
  • Mentors/advisors

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media
  • Email

Evaluation results

57 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 83.9%

Probably - 10.7%

Maybe - 5.4%

Probably not - 0%

No - 0%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 75%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 19.6%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 1.8%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 1.8%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 1.8%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 70.2%

4 - Yes, I think so - 26.3%

3 - Maybe - 1.8%

2 - Probably not. - 0%

1 - No - 1.8%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 100%

4 - Yes, I think so - 29.3%

3 - Maybe - 9.8%

2 - Probably not - 2.4%

1 - No - 2.4%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 68.4%

4 - Yes, I think so - 24.6%

3 - Maybe - 3.5%

2 - Probably not - 1.8%

1 - No - 1.8%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 67.4%

4- Yes, I think so - 18.6%

3- Maybe - 11.6%

2- Probably not - 0%

1- No - 2.3%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 89.2%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 100%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 81.1%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 78.4%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 81.1%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 81.1%

Other option - 8.1%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 8.7%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 13%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 34.8%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 26.1%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 34.8%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 47.8%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 100%

Other option - 4.3%


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Photo of sherri nelson

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