The world’s population uses 1 million plastic bottles per minute. Unfortunately, more than 90% of those plastic bottles are not recycled. As a result, most durable PET material, which can last up to 500 years, becomes waste in our landfills after only a single use. Often these bottles don’t even make it to the landfill, and they are discarded in oceans, lakes, streams or on private property. More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year.
Steven Klein saw the impact discarded plastic bottles have on the Earth; and he decided to do something about it. In 2006, he developed the Eco Connect Bottle® System to combat the continued accumulation of empty plastic bottles. Using a proprietary design feature, Klein discovered a way for empty plastic bottles to be connected to each other and a variety of functional connector pieces. His connecting idea enables empty PET bottles to be repurposed and to begin a new life as something else like tables, storage cubes, toys and even building insulation. This added value also makes them perfect for disaster relief. Klein’s invention has led to many creative and innovative items made from empty plastic bottles. It is not only a way to repurpose the bottles, but it is a way to create something useful instead of creating more plastic waste.
Klein’s Eco Connect Bottle® System has been more than a decade in the making. The 74-year-old is now ready for the world to begin using his innovative creation. Klein recently sat down with Totalprestige Magazine to talk about his company, the Eco Connect Bottle® System and his career.
Steven, can you please tell us about Kleincepts? How did the company begin and what have been some of the highlights?
Kleincepts, Inc. was incorporated in 2007 to develop the Eco Connect Bottle® System. It is a revolutionary new way to repurpose empty water bottles. The container coupling system was awarded patents in 2009 and 2010. In 2015, a trial was successfully completed to produce Eco Connect Bottles® in high-speed PET bottle blowing machines. A recent improvement in the proprietary base recess, which provides a vacuum seal in addition to the frictional grip, is in patent pending status. Going forward Kleincepts, Inc. will be doing business as the Eco Connect Bottle® System.
Please let us know about the “Eco Connect Bottles System.” What was the concept, and what led you to its development?
As a young child, all the clothing I wore was hand-me-downs. I used to look through the bags of pre-worn clothes, and was amazed that some of them looked almost brand new. As a result, I grew up believing that what one person throws away could be considered very usable and valuable to someone else. The Eco Connect Bottle® System is based on that belief.
In 2006, I wanted to do something about plastic waste from the millions and millions of perfectly usable, super durable plastic water bottles that were being discarded after only a single use. I wanted to find a way to make those empty bottles useful and valuable after the water was consumed. My inspiration for stacking and connecting the empty water bottles came from an educational toy. In 1978, my wife and I founded a small chain of educational toy stores that specialized in toys for blind and special needs children. One of my favorite toys in the stores was a stacking pegboard. The pegs were stacked loosely, and I envisioned a firm connection, so I experimented with ways to firmly connect the bottles together until the first conceptual Eco Connect Bottle® was born.
The idea for the connector pieces came to me in a dream. I woke up, sketched the connector pieces from my dream, and those primitive sketches are similar to the drawings that were included with my first patent.
Next, I needed to find a way to inexpensively mass produce Eco Connect Bottles®. After years of research, I discovered that a worldwide bottle machine manufacturing company had developed a patented process to mold a deep recess in a water bottle’s base utilizing their high-speed machines. In 2015, I contracted with a team of their engineers to develop my molds, blow the bottles in a high-speed machine, test the firm connectivity of my proprietary recess and establish proof of my concept. That worldwide bottling company, with 30,000 machines in more than 190 countries, now has the ability to convert most of their existing machines to produce Eco Connect Bottles®.
The designs for different types of connector pieces were 3D printed and tested. The tools to mass produce them will be made in China, and the connector pieces will be produced by a factory in Pennsylvania. The connector pieces will be sent to end users via fulfillment centers with free two-day shipping. All of the connector piece pricing and distribution is now in place.
A percentage of connector piece sales will be donated to water conservation programs. Another percentage will be shared with participating water brands as an additional profit center.
Steven, what are the Eco Connect Bottle® System’s benefits and how can brands participate?
Today’s empty single-serve plastic water bottles all share the same destiny. They can either be recycled, or they can be tossed in the trash.
Empty Eco Connect Bottles® are the only plastic water containers that give end-users a third option. They can also be repurposed.
This means the durable, empty plastic containers can begin a new life as something else. A table, a desk, storage cubes, trash bins, toys and even building insulation. The repurposing ideas are limitless, and have the ability to benefit every household in the world.
In addition to reducing plastic waste, this added value makes Eco Connect Bottles® perfect for disaster relief. They are the only donated water bottles that can avoid ending up as additional trash in already devastated areas. Plus, strips of connected Eco Connect Bottles® can be used as building insulation as the country rebuilds.
Water brands can incorporate the Eco Connect Bottle’s ® patented connecting features, without changing their recognizable package design, to support The Circular Economy and Extended Producer Responsibility.
The Eco Connect Bottle® is potentially the first non-returnable water bottle that will empower end-users with a fun, rewarding, hands-on sustainable experience to repurpose their empties in addition to recycling. Plus, end-users can share their inventive repurposing ideas on social media.
This is a revolutionary concept that can benefit every household, reduce plastic waste and be even more valuable in countries that do little or no recycling; or experience a natural disaster.
It even has the ability to create new jobs, in emerging nations, as entrepreneurs and artists open small businesses marketing useful items made from repurposed water bottles.
This is a water bottle that benefits everyone. End-users are given a meaningful, interactive, fun, sustainable way to deal with empties. The planet benefits because plastic waste will be reduced, and if a water brand has the exclusive right to market Eco Connect Bottles® in a state, country, continent, or the world, the question is not whether that water brand will gain a competitive advantage and market share. The question is, how large will it be?
Even the optional connector pieces have benefits. In addition to providing participating brands with an additional revenue stream, the connectors can also be earned by purchasing a brand’s related product, driving additional sales for the entire product line.
Water brands can participate by licensing the Eco Connect Bottle® System’s patented connecting technology. Many water brands already own the machines that can be converted to produce Eco Connect Bottles®.
According to a recent article on Forbes.com, globally we are using 1 million plastic bottles per minute and 91% of them are not recycled. Clearly more needs to be done. Although the Eco Connect Bottle® System alone will not eliminate the problem, it is my hope that repurposing will have a collective impact in conjunction with lightweighting, plant bottles, recycling and new eco-innovations, yet to be developed, to reduce plastic waste.
What has been your most rewarding professional experience?
The most rewarding part of my professional experience has always been setting goals, and enjoying the journey as I attempt to reach them. With the Eco Connect Bottle® System that journey has been more than 11 years. That’s how long it took me to put all of the pieces in place, so I could finally feel comfortable enough to launch my initiative. It was incredibly rewarding when I was finally able to launch last April by putting out a press release and reaching out to people in the beverage industry on LinkedIn.
Steven, what have you learned about yourself by running your own businesses?
I’m now 74, so with this venture, I’ve learned that you’re never too old to follow your dreams. However, if I was younger, I might have tried to start my own water company featuring the Eco Connect Bottle® System.
How do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration by talking about the Eco Connect Bottle® System with just about anyone who will listen. It could be a cashier in the supermarket, a waiter, a customer service representative, or even a telemarketer. I’m so excited about this project that I want to share it with everyone, and when I succeed in getting them as excited as I am, that inspires me. Hopefully, after the Eco Connect Bottle® System becomes a household name there will be many people who can say, “I spoke to the inventor of the Eco Connect Bottle® System when he was just launching his concept.”
What is the most challenging part of your work?
The most challenging part is never giving up. I’ve been working on this self-funded project for more than 11 years. You have to be persistent and be willing to chase people down in the hope that they will answer your calls, or respond to your emails. Bringing a new concept to market is always a challenge. It’s a never ending battle… even today.
What do you have your sights set on next?
I’m going to continue to get the word out about my initiative, and evaluate the opportunities that develop as a result. I’m also thinking about trying to raise some funds through a crowdfunding program, so I can attend some packaging shows and establish more traction in the media. I have a plan, but I’m also prepared to pivot if the right offer or opportunity comes along.
Were you ever influenced by other entrepreneurs?
I’m continually influenced by other entrepreneurs. I’m always reading about them to see how they think, what traits they have, how they overcame adversity and in general, what makes them tick.
What is a day in your life like?
My day always begins the same way: by spending at least 10 minutes hugging my beautiful wife of 50 years. This allows me to begin each day feeling relaxed, grateful and loved. In 2004, I had quintuple bypass surgery, so almost every day, I try to stay fit by lifting weights, walking 30 flights of stairs, or by doing both. If it’s a work day, I try to accomplish as much as I can from my neverending “to do list.”
What makes you smile?
When I can help people, and make a positive difference in their lives that makes me smile. Every meaningful professional experience in my life: teaching, The Learning Stores and now the Eco Connect Bottle® System, has always centered around helping others. In addition to helping others, The Eco Connect Bottle® System was also created to make the world a better place. Just thinking about that makes me smile.
What scares you?
Being a trailblazer is scary, but it’s also exciting!
What has been your greatest achievement?
I would have to say the biggest achievement in my life is being married to my beautiful, intelligent wife for 50 years, and still loving her more with each passing day. As a result of that love, we raised two wonderful sons and have two amazing grandchildren.
What is your secret talent?
My mind is always thinking in terms of puns.
Which historical figure do you most admire?
When you’re 63 and need inspiration to start a business, that person has to be Colonel Sanders. When he was 66, and living on Social Security, he began marketing his now famous fried chicken recipe.
Steven, do you have any hobbies?
I don’t know if this would be considered a hobby, but I like to save relevant pieces of my life. I still have my little league uniform and the paper where I first wrote down my wife’s phone number almost 52 years ago.
What are you never without?
That’s an easy one…optimism!
Can you tell us two of your favorite quotes?
“You cannot control everything that happens in your life, but you can control how you respond. In your response is your greatest power.”
“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”
What have you sacrificed for success?
We only have so much time on Earth, and that’s what you have to sacrifice in order to achieve success and to keep it.
What advice would you give to anyone starting a new business?
Have a plan. Try to stick with it as long as you can. Don’t be afraid to fail, and if you do, learn from your mistakes. Be resilient.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Always keep a pen and paper close to you when you go to sleep. You never know when a great idea will strike.
For more information on The Eco Connect Bottle® System, please visit www.eco-connectbottle.com.