Packaging challenges could leave bottled water companies all wet
- A growing number of bottled water manufacturers are searching for recycled and alternative packaging as consumers try to avoid disposable, single-use plastic — and governments and businesses start banning it, The Wall Street Journal reported.
- Last year, Evian committed to moving from making 30% of its bottles from recycled plastic to making all of them that way by 2025. Evian's parent company, Danone, is hoping to boost market share by responding to consumer pressure to phase out single-use plastic.
- New recycling technology is needed to make more sustainable water bottles. Danone is putting its faith in a new process from Montreal-based Loop Industries, Inc. So far, tests have shown the bottles meet Danone's quality standards. Loop has also signed supply deals with PepsiCo and Coca-Cola's European bottler, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Bottled water is America's most popular beverage, dethroning carbonated soft drinks in 2016. Sales have soared in recent years because of consumer worries about tap water quality and concerns about sugary drinks. According to Beverage Marketing Corp., U.S. consumption of bottled water skyrocketed 284% between 1994 and 2017, reaching nearly 42 gallons per person each year.
Most of that growth comes from single-serve plastic bottles that make up about two-thirds of U.S. sales, The Wall Street Journal reported. But such packaging comes with big sustainability problems. According to the Ocean Conservancy, plastic beverage bottles are the third most common item washing up on beaches, right after cigarette butts and food wrappers. Also, producing plastic bottles takes three times the amount of water that’s contained inside them, and only about 30% of plastic bottles are recycled.
Sales of bottled water are expected to slow this year because of consumer backlash and new government mandates and business bans. Consumers also don't like to see plastic bottles littering the landscape, piled up in landfills and clogging waterways. As a result, major bottled water manufacturers such as Danone, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Coca-Cola are investing in alternatives and pledging to increase the amount of recycled plastic in their bottles.
Another source of pressure on bottled water companies are investors who want to see them limit single-use plastic packaging. Last June, an alliance of 25 investors which manage more that $1 trillion in assets that was organized by advocacy group As You Sow asked companies including Nestlé, Unilever and PepsiCo to reveal their annual use of plastic packaging and set reduction goals, while switching to recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging when possible. Those three companies have already agreed to phase in packaging made from recyclable, compostable and biodegradable materials with more recycled content by 2025.
Alternatives include biodegradable bottles made from mushrooms and seaweed, as well as discarded cardboard and sawdust. Boxed water has also become popular, with JUST Water, Boxed Water is Better, Icebox Water and RETHINK Water all offering more environmentally friendly paper-based cartoons. Hint, Inc., a California maker of unsweetened, lightly flavored waters, recently debuted a line of children's products packaged in boxes.
There are technological and other challenges confronting recycling plastic water bottles. But that could change if Danone and Evian are successful in their partnership with Loop Industries. Sales may perk up and disgruntled environmentally conscious consumers may take another look at bottled water. Otherwise, boxed water brands and tap water could become go-to alternatives.
- The Wall Street Journal Plastic Water Bottles, Which Enabled a Drinks Boom, Now Threaten a Crisis