Sustainable water manufacturer has expansion plans for region and beyond
By Marlon Madden
Just off Highway 3 in Walkes Spring, St Thomas is a company that specialises in producing and bottling water in a sustainable way.
Eco Skywater pulls water from the atmosphere – extracting water molecules from humid ambient air – using off-grid technology, places it in bottles that are compostable or reusable, and makes them available to homes and businesses.
Kyle Taylor, owner of the water manufacturing plant which sits on over 5 000 square feet of land and is surrounded by an organic farm, described the operation as a holistic ecosystem.
The company currently produces around 1 000 litres of water per day. Still water is placed in overseas-manufactured plant-based bottles which are made into compost after use, and most of that goes back into the garden.
Both still and sparkling water is also bottled in glass containers which only go to restaurants, hotels and homeowners who return them when they are empty so they can be reused.
Eco Skywater started in February 2020, mere weeks before COVID-19 raised its head in Barbados.
Operations had to be halted, resulting in a container of about 62 000 bottles being dumped due to heat damage.
However, Taylor said once COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, he and his team got down to work about one and a half years ago.
“It has been a struggle, but we have had a tremendous amount of support from the restaurants, hotels and homeowners who drink the water,” he said.
Eco Skywater currently has 14 full-time employees.
Taylor also owns a boutique restaurant with his wife on the East Coast – Eco Restaurant – which they started about five years ago, using mostly local items that are predominantly organic. That operation employs more than 20 people.
The businessman explained that the idea for Eco Skywater came out of the need for a more effective solution for providing water for the restaurant.
“I had glass bottles of water but they were coming from overseas,” he said. “It didn’t make sense to me that it is water and I am buying it from overseas. And while there are people making water on the island, no one is putting it in glass. So I set out to help fix this.”
Taylor initially produced the atmospheric water only for his restaurant, but quickly decided to expand that to produce for other eateries and bottle it for supermarkets, shops and households.
He explained that part of the idea was to help wean Barbados off plastic and promote more environmentally-friendly options while limiting the amount of bottled water being imported.
“There are three things about our water that are very important – how we make the water, how we manufacture the water, and how we bottle the water,” explained Taylor.
He said it was his intention to have the water available in “every rum shop in Barbados”.
Though stressing that his motivation was not money, he acknowledged that his product was slightly more costly than some local and regional brands. However, he explained, this was due to the cost associated with manufacturing the plant-based bottles.
Taylor hopes to eventually have the plant-based bottles manufactured on-island, and to export. This, he estimated, would easily create up to 100 new jobs.
Part of his expansion plan is to replicate the operations here in other parts of the Caribbean and further afield, through franchising.
“What we have done is that we have sandboxed this idea of decentralising water in a sustainable way,” he said. “We have been at it for a year-and-a-half and we are now ready to replicate this.”
Taylor opted not to say how much he has invested so far but pointed to the benefits of his investment to the country – generating both employment and tax revenue for the government.
The New Yorker first visited the island about eight years ago with his wife and two children for a weekend. He immediately fell in love with Barbados and decided they should return to do business here.
Taylor said he was attracted to the island particularly because of the climate, good infrastructure, safety and the friendliness of the people. Two years after his first visit, he returned.
“So we came back again and decided to make life here, but being here we did not just want to pass through as tourists, we wanted to give back to the country,” he said.
With Barbados being a water-scarce country, Taylor said it was his vision for his company to supply the precious resource for various segments of the society in the future, through the provision of mini-structures which would take some pressure off the Barbados Water Authority.
“We can put these in schools where they don’t have to build infrastructure, for example. So, we can put in a device at a school where the children get water and it can be put in protected areas in communities where people can go there and get clean drinking water,” he said.
With the plant’s systems fully solar-powered and off the national grid, Taylor explained that it was also a form of natural disaster mitigation.
“When hurricanes happen, the biggest havoc is [lack of] water because there is no power to get the water everywhere. And while you can live without light, you cannot live without water. If you see any island that is struck horribly, what people aim for is water and we send all these plastic bottles of water. But do you see what happens with all these plastic bottles and the trash once the power goes back on? They are just all sitting there. So that can all be mitigated,” he said.
Taylor also believes that Eco Skywater will help put a dent in the number of plastic bottles being imported into the country.
He sees his biggest challenge as educating the public about the importance of sustainable practices.
In addition to the company’s education campaigns, it sponsors several events as part of its corporate social responsibility. [email protected]