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Climate change solutions come to CES not a moment too soon

Devices to tackle environmental problems like the scarcity of clean water and the surplus of garbage are glimmers of hope.

Rocean hopes its product will encourage people to drink tap water rather than buy water in plastic bottles shipped from around the world.
Angela Lang/CNET

This story is part of CES, where CNET covers the latest news on the most incredible tech coming soon.

CES is best known for wacky gadgets and shiny TVs out of your price range. But this year at Unveiled, the pre-show media event, we also found tech companies trying to solve the biggest problem of our time: climate change.

From reusable packaging to atmospheric water generators that can pull H2O out of the air, products on display at Sunday's event show us that tech could actually save us from ourselves.

It often feels like products at CES seek to make life more fun or convenient for those of us lucky enough to have disposable income, so it was refreshing to find people on the show floor who were willing to have serious discussions about the future of the environment.

"I think we are a tenant on this planet," said Ravikant Barot, founder and CEO of Oxicool, a Pennsylvania company that makes air conditioners using water as the only refrigerant. "We need to leave it in a good shape."

Air conditioning units require a huge amount of electricity and harmful chemicals to keep homes cool, but Oxicool's system claims to reduce electricity consumption by 90%. At the end of the unit's life, Oxicool said, water comes out that you could drink, and every part of the device is recyclable. 

"It's operating now," said Barot. "It's ridiculously silent." I lean my head close to the machine and can't hear a thing, but feel a cool breeze against my face.

Another company keen to reduce environmental waste is France's Living Packets, which has created packages that can be reused up to 1,000 times, cutting down on cardboard boxes. 


Living Packets has created reusable, recyclable packages as a service with E Ink screens.

Katie Collins/CNET

Both directly and indirectly, e-commerce plays a huge role in polluting our oceans, said Living Packets CEO and founder Alexander Cotte. He hopes that the hardy boxes, which are made of recycled plastic and come with E Ink screens that display the address label and postage, can contribute both to reducing plastic waste and saving trees. 

The boxes' internal mesh system also negates the need for bubble wrap, polystyrene peanuts or other wasteful packing materials. The boxes themselves can eventually be recycled, but Living Packets plans instead to refurbish and then recirculate them.

New York City-based Rocean, meanwhile, is focused on reducing the reliance on bottled water by encouraging people to jazz up their local tap water with its all-in-one machine that filters, carbonates and flavors H2O.

Water, and specifically solving the water pollution crisis, likely will be an important theme at CES this year. Arizona's Zero Mass Water, which came to CES last year and is back this year, is dedicated to making clean water a boundless resource by generating it from sunlight and air.

At CES, it's showing off the Source Rexi Hydropanel, a downsized version of the Source Hydropanel generator that it brought to CES last year. Rexi sits on a roof and uses solar energy to pull moisture from the air and produce fresh drinking water.

Zero Mass Water's products represent a future in which water is a renewable resource, said Kaitlyn Fitzgerald, the company's director of brand. 

"The water crisis is a crisis that's only getting worse," she said. "It's a problem today and, in the coming years, is going to get more severe, so it's important that we work fast now to get this technology in the hands of as many people as possible."