Opening the tap on any faucet in your home to access a stream of clean drinking water is a privilege that not everyone is afforded. The reality is that millions of people around the world must retrieve water with jugs and buckets from sources like rivers and wells. In many cases, despite all the effort it takes to transport full jugs from the river, the water that’s brought back is often contaminated.
This was the issue Dutch product designer Olivier de Gruijter was motivated to address while on a trip to India as a design student. He noticed that many people in India used jerricans (sometimes called jerry cans), plastic or metal containers for water, and was inspired to somehow improve their efficiency.
The result is Jerry, an attachable tap that filters water each time someone pumps the jerrican. “Many water filter systems are complex to maintain,” says de Gruijter. Other filters require disassembly to clean them out when they become clogged (which is often), but according to de Gruijter, Jerry is “a system that cleans itself automatically with every pump stroke.”
How Jerry works
When the can is pumped and water flows into a cup, a small amount of water flows backward through the filter to clean it at the same time. The design not only cleans the water but makes it more convenient to get water out of the can. Instead of tipping a big, heavy can over a small glass, a method that leads to potentially spilling some of the precious water that someone may have walked a great distance to collect, users can simply push down on the tap.
The tap consists of two filters, which eliminate more than 99.999 percent of bacteria and parasites, and more than 99.9 percent of viruses, not to mention large particles of dirt and sand that make the water look less appealing. Once the can is nearly empty, the filter stops working. What’s left behind are the contaminants that have been filtered out and the last bit of water, which can all be dumped out.
The filter can clean around 10,000 liters of water before it has to be replaced, which is enough to last a family a few years. What makes this solution so remarkable is the ease with which it can be implemented. Jerricans are already used very widely, making the product easier to adopt than others on the market. Plus, the tap is quite small, which means it’s easier to ship than bulkier devices.
Another advantage to Jerry’s simple design is that it’s self-explanatory. While the filters were on trial in Ethiopia, some prototypes were given to families, but without any instructions. “People were given one of the jerrican filters without any explanation—just sort of, ‘good luck,’ to see how they work,” explains de Gruijter. “Each of the participants was able to install it correctly, get a glass of water, and, by doing so, maintain the filter, all within 30 seconds.”
More prototypes are being tested at de Gruijter’s startup, Forthemany. He hopes to have the devices available commercially within 18 months. Even though the filter is designed to be as affordable as possible, Forthemany still hopes to partner with other organizations to make the filter even more accessible, as their market includes some of the poorest communities in the world.