The air quality in China is deadly. Some days in metropolitan areas you can’t see the skyline.
Paper face masks worn by pedestrians are slowly being replaced by heavy-duty kind with purifying canister filters.
There’s even an air quality index (AQI), measured on an official scale of 500 by various sensors across the city. Late last year, on several days, those sensor triggered a “red alert”, which means the air outside could literally cause you to drop dead.
As of August 2015, a study found that the effects of poor air quality killed 4,000 people in China a day.
Now, an Australian company wants to help – by packaging Australian air and sending it to China.
Using a compression and filtration system, Green and Clean fills individual containers with air from different locations spanning The Blue Mountains to Bondi Beach. Each container holds approximately 130 deep breaths of air which customers can then inhale using a purpose built cap that goes over their mouth and nose.
“It’s very difficult for people who haven’t been there [China] to comprehend,” co-founder John Dickinson told Business Insider.
“People think ‘why in the world would any want to buy air?’ And you could possibly run the same argument 20-30 years ago with bottled water.”
Dickinson says the emerging middle class in China are very health conscious, and would receive the product well.
“They’re very health conscious,” he says, “You only have to look at Swisse and Blackmores and companies like them to see that.”
He understands that some people think his product is a gimmick, but says the fact that you can “taste” eucalyptus in the air bottled in The Blue Mountains is proof enough that his product is legitimate.
“I’m not knocking anyone else, that’s not what we’re about, but I’m aware of a company in the UK that has tried to sell jars of air to China. A few people have tried to do this, but I don’t know if that’s a product – it’s a jar with a lid closed.
“A lot of thought has gone into this product. It’s not just a gimmick.
“Most of the people who have criticism of what we are doing have never left Australia. That’s the point I try to make.
“If someone spends a week in Beijing on a bad week and comes back to us and tells us what we’re doing is rubbish, then I’ll listen to them, but it’s difficult for me to take people seriously when they literally have never experience what these people experience.”
Dickinson said the air captured by Green and Clean is all tested. Citing the Blue Mountains “eucalyptus” air, he said that means is that “gives every location its own characteristics”.
When it comes to capturing the air, Dickinson says it wasn’t an easy task and that the product was a result of a year’s worth of hard work.
“With the help of a mechanical engineer it took 3-4 months to crack,” says Dickinson.
“We’re pretty guarded about how we do it, but essentially the easy way to describe it is it’s like a purpose built compressor with various filters and nozzles and hoses and things, and that allows us to pull that air in, in an uncontaminated way and put that straight into that container.
“Each can is individually filled so it takes time and effort. It’s not a factory,” adding that they only had four or five machines.
“Each bottle takes approximately 30 seconds to fill… but from start to finish it’s probably more like a minute.”
The vacuums “are fully transportable so we can take them to wherever we want. That was one of the most difficult things to achieve… with many failures.”
The product doesn’t have a nutritional label or ingredients on the container because a “molecular breakdown would be four-pages long,” says Dickinson. Nor does it have an expiry date.
“There’s no expiry because it’s ambient air,” he says. “We recommend a 12-month best before but there is no reason why after 12 months it’s not exactly the same air we put in the can.
“The air is constantly tested. As far as the air quality goes, it’s not us that is saying it’s good. It’s a laboratory saying it’s good.
“If it’s Blue Mountains – it says 100% Blue Mountains air.”
And while he’s not claiming to be a scientist, he says the customer satisfaction with the product is a success in itself.
“There’s no doubt that we have people telling us that they feel better overseas when they use our product, and from our point of view that’s sort of job done,” he says.
But Dickinson admitted that the customers could also be experiencing a placebo effect.
“To me, that’s fine as well,” he says.
“My personal feeling about health is a lot of it is about how you feel. If you do something you believe is good for you, you feel better about it and you probably will be better.
“If I lived in Beijing and I had to breathe that environment 24/7, and I had the opportunity to breathe some good air, I don’t think I need any science to tell me that’s good.
“I know what I’d rather do. I’d rather have some than none.”
Business Insider spoke to Dickinson a week after the launch of the product on the market.
He said he was working towards bolstering the Green and Clean team to help deliver on the massive orders that were coming in from China.
“I’m talking like 75,000 cans a quarter kind of stuff and more,” he said.
The company was able to work off an existing customer base they had established in China through another venture run by the co-founders called BizMark Consulting, which helps Chinese business people gain residency in Australia through different visa classes.
“That business has sort of linked itself quite well with this because those connections have already been established,” Dickinson said.
“The break into China is never easy and it’s all about knowing the right people and being able to get in front of the right people.”
The product has only been tested in the Chinese market so far but Dickinson said they were attracting significant interest from all over the world.
“There are people who want to take this to Vietnam and then Milan. We’re also in talks with a company in the south of France to capture wine region air.”
This is another market Dickinson sees huge opportunity in – bottling private labels for vineyards, golf courses and other luxury places for promotional purposes.
“We’ve just signed a deal with some of the big airports in Australia so tourists can take Australia back home with them.
“But for now our focus is on Green and Clean, and establishing the brand in China. That was always the goal with this particular project.
“The air is just one product that we intend to add to our range. The other products are all the health-style products.
“We have bigger plans [for the business]. Other products are coming in six or seven months.”
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