How ‘air farming’ went from a joke to a global enterprise

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Australians are marketing bottled air to countries struggling with air pollution. Is it a sham or an opportunity for people to finally get a breath of fresh air?

Joe Duchiera drives hours every week to remote parts of South Australia for one reason: he's an air farmer.

"We head out as far as we can to find the right location to 'can' the air," he said.

"We capture the air, put it in a can, and send it to China."

Joe sucks air through a machine, bottles it, and ships it to customers who believe a breath-full will benefit their health. His business is one of dozens around the world who have latched onto this marketing that has boomed in the last five years.

Joe was initially skeptical about selling air, but quickly discovered the global demand could fuel a thriving business. And it has.

"When I first heard about air farming I thought, wow, would people really breathe in that air?" he said.

"I started doing research about pollution crisis in China and India, it dawned on me that there is a market."

From joke to global enterprise

The global bottled air market started with two Canadians, Moses Lam and Troy Paquette, who sold a plastic resealable bag full of air on eBay for 0.99 cents. It was a joke, but when it was quickly snapped up, the pair tried selling another bag. This time for $168.

"We were excited that a bag of ziplock air sold on eBay," Moses said.

"So we made a company."

The Canadian duo founded Vitality Air in 2014, now it's one of the leading global "canned air" distribution companies. They ship all around the world, with one of the largest markets in China where air pollution a crisis.

'A sham'

Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of New South Wales Guy Marks said selling bottled air is "ridiculous".

"I think people have also tried to sell the Sydney Harbor Bridge," he said.

Professor Marks said we breathe five to ten litres of air every minute.

"If we exercise we breathe a lot more," he said.

"It's impossible that you could replace that with some other source, unless you wore scuba diving equipment."

"I can't see a benefit of a breath of fresh air, or a few breaths of fresh air."

Professor Marks goes as far to say it' as damaging distraction from addressing real issues with air pollution and respiratory illness.

"Anything that gives people false hope and distracts from the implementation of effective solutions is harmful."

No evidence

Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Bronya Lipski said selling Australia air might give a false perception of its overall purity of Australia.

"We have some of the worst regulations and laws when it comes to air pollution," she said.

"About 3000 people have dying from every year.

"I also think about the population involved in shipping the air."