- Danone and Nestle Waters, the world's largest bottled-water manufacturers, have joined with California startup Origin Materials to create the NaturALL Bottle Alliance, an initiative that aims to produce plastic bottles from 100% sustainable sources, according to a news release. The alliance hopes to produce at least 75% bio-based PET plastic bottles at a commercial scale by 2020 before scaling up to 95% in 2022.
- The project utilizes discarded wood-based products such as cardboard and sawdust to create bio-based bottle materials. Unlike other sources for plant-based plastics, like corn grown for ethanol, wood does not divert resources from food production.
- “Current technology on the market makes it possible to have 30% bio-PET,” said John Bissell, CEO of Origin Materials. “Our breakthrough technology aims to reach 100% bio-based bottles at commercial scale. With the help of our alliance partners, Origin Materials will be able to scale up a technology which has already been proven at the pilot level.”
The bottled water industry is booming, fueled largely by the consumer's shift away from sugary soda. Innovation in the water space also has made the category more attractive to consumers. Premium sparkling, flavored, vitamin and oxygen-infused waters are expanding beyond niche health stores into traditional retail shelves, boosting category sales by 8.2% in 2016. Retail sales totaled $14.7 billion.
Consumers see bottled water as a healthy alternative to other packaged beverages, and they enjoy the convenience of a grab-and-go, bottled beverage. Unfortunately, this convenience comes with an environmental price. Producing plastic bottles takes three times the amount of water that's ultimately contained inside of them. Only about 30% of plastic bottles are recycled.
Environmental sustainability may be top of mind for some consumers, but convenience and personal nutrition often win out, leading to the expansion of manufacturers' carbon footprints. Nestle and Danone's NaturALL Bottle Alliance aims to close this gap between consumer interest in sustainable packaging and actual action, bringing bio-based bottling tech to the entire food and beverage industry.
Coca-Cola, Pepsico and other major companies are developing plant-based bottles made from mushrooms and seaweed, but these materials disrupt food production. NaturALL's wood-based products do not, and once this science moves beyond the pilot phase, it could have a major impact on the industry's sustainability efforts.
This bio-based material also could help brands push their bottled waters into the premium category, allowing them to charge more. Companies should create eye-catching packaging that details the bottle's sustainable materials to attract environmentally friendly consumers and differentiate themselves from other competitors on the shelf.
But even the best intentions to help the Earth can sometimes backfire. In 2010, Frito-Lay rebranded Sun Chips by placing them in a new, high-tech package that was said to be 100% compostable. The problem was the bag was really loud, prompting customers to complain. Sun Chips later returned to the original bag.