Beijing experienced its first-ever red alert for air quality from December 8 to 10. It was the highest in the four-level system, adapted a couple of years ago. The children and the elderly people were requested to stay inside their homes. The schools were closed and residents in transit were asked to wear masks and to travel in public transport vehicles. Amidst this soaring level of air pollution, a Canadian start-up company ‘Vitality Air’ witnessed an unexpected take off of their product in China. The product is ‘bottled air’. The air comes from pristine Canadian locales ‘Banff’& ‘Lake Louise’, which is surrounded by majestic Rocky Mountains and crystal clear bodies of water.
‘Vitality Air’ possesses premium ranges of bottled air and other oxygen products (the products are priced between $16 and $46) which claim to ‘enhance vitality one breath at a time’. A premium oxygen bottle of 10 liters is said to cost $29.21, which provides more than 200 inhalations. Troy Paquette and Moses Lam in 2014 were looking for a business venture. They heard from their friends, who frequently travel to Asia, about the air quality, especially in Beijing. So, for experimental purposes the duo captured air in a large Ziploc freezer bag, closed it and then posted the details on e-bay. It only sold for 99 cents, but soon for their second sales, there was a heavy bidding war and eventually it sold for $168. This gave them the idea to start ‘Vitality Air’ and they only thought of it as a ‘novelty’ or a ‘fun’ product.
Everyone from friends to parents mocked the duos of starting a company to sell air (Lam works in a bank). But this fun product’s sales soon started to hit the roof as the smog alert reached its threshold point. Their first shipment of 500 bottles sold within 4 days. And, now they have shipped a crate containing 4,000 bottles to China. The demand is soaring as China’s air quality is showing worsening results. Nevertheless, Lam and Paquette weren’t the first to try selling air.
Beijing artist Liang Keang after returning to his home from a vacation in France, he brought with him jar of clean air. Later in an auction, the jar of clean air fetched approximately an amount of $800. A Chinese entrepreneur Chen Guangbiao also started to selling cans of fresh air for as low as 80 cents. But, both these people were trying to make a point on how ‘air’, the essential element for our humans (free to breathe for a millionaire or a beggar) could easily be turned into a business commodity, especially rapidly industrializing country. In fact, artist Liang stated “This is my way to question China’s foul air and express my dissatisfaction”.
Some of the Beijing restaurants have also said to include ‘air cleaning fee’ into customers’ bills. When co-founder of ‘Vitality Air’, Mr. Lam was asked on whether they are preying upon desperate, rich Chinese, his reply was “We’re almost no different than the bottled water industry. You can get water out of a tap, but why does people prefer bottled water. Why should selling air be any different?” Eminent researchers and university professors express the opinion that ‘bottled air’ is not the practical solution for air pollution. It might only divert our attention, which should be solely focused on filtering out dangerous particles from air. Just think of the irony of producing mass numbers of plastic or aluminum bottles to withhold clean air. The carbon cost of producing & shipping such things would only spawn the pollution of air.