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Consumers Thirst for Bottled Water

Consumers Thirst for Bottled Water

By Angela Altass

Bottled water is not only the healthiest packaged drink but it also has the smallest environmental footprint of all packaged drinks, says Jill Culora, vice president of communications, International Bottled Water Association.

The plastic bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which, according to the Canadian Beverage Association, is a safe, durable, 100 per cent recyclable plastic material.

“PET water bottles use less than half of the material weight of all other packaging types, including aluminum cans, paperboard cartons, glass, and even PET soda bottles,” says Culora. “Lower material usage means less impact from material extraction, manufacturing, and ultimately results in less material entering landfills or needing to be recycled. In addition, products such as carbonated soft drinks, juices, and other sugary beverages require far more plastic packaging due to carbonation and manufacturing processes, using at least 142 per cent more plastic, and have greater environmental impact than bottled water.”

Research from the American Chemistry Council looked at the entire life cycle of plastic packaging versus the alternatives of aluminum cans, paperboard cartons and glass and concluded that PET plastic containers have the least environmental impact compared to those other packaging materials. 

“The report’s most significant finding was the nearly doubling of greenhouse gas emissions that would occur using non-plastic containers,” states Culora. “In fact, the use of those alternative packaging materials produces about 60 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than plastic beverage containers.”

Sales data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC) shows that since 2012, approximately 30 per cent of the growth in U.S. bottled water consumption has come from people switching from carbonated soft drinks and juices to bottled water. 

“Bottled water’s freedom from calories and artificial ingredients appeals to many consumers,” says BMC Chairman and CEO Michael C. Bellas. “Bottled water achieved its position at the apex of beverage rankings by enticing consumers away from other packaged beverages.”

Bottled water containers are 100 per cent recyclable, including the cap, notes Culora.

“We always educate consumers to recycle with the cap on because caps are small and they can be lost in the system,” says Crystal Howe, director of sustainability, Ice River Sustainable Solutions. “By keeping the cap on when you recycle, the cap will come to us and be turned into outdoor furniture.”

Ice River Sustainable Solutions is the first beverage company in North America to operate a recycling facility in a closed loop: From curbside collection to recycled bottle manufacturing to fresh natural spring water products and back again. The company reports keeping over 500 million pounds of plastic out of North America’s landfills since 2009.

“We buy approximately 80 per cent of the PET plastic bales that are collected and sorted through the Ontario Blue Box Program,” says Howe, who is the daughter of the company’s founders Jamie and Sandy Gott, who also operate 3,500 acres of organic farmland. “We’re the first beverage company in North America to collect blue box materials to produce our 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles, using no new plastic. And, we found a way to develop a green water bottle that utilizes green plastics from soda and other beverage bottles, keeping an extra five million pounds of plastic out of landfills every year.”

Ice River Sustainable Solutions is currently working on the sustainability of the case wrap for its bottled water products.

“The case wrap contains approximately 20 per cent recycled content at this time,” says Howe. “We manufacture it ourselves and have a goal of 30 per cent by the end of the year. Our focus is to help build a circular economy for flexible plastics in Canada.”

 Dasani, one of Coca-Cola’s biggest brands in North America, rolled out bottles made from 100 per cent recycled PET plastic, excluding caps and labels, this summer as a major step to support a circular economy for plastic packaging. In Canada, this innovation spans all Dasani bottles. The shift supports Dasani’s pledge to remove the equivalent of two billion virgin plastic bottles from production by 2027 compared to 2021 levels and the company’s World Without Waste goal to use at least 50 per cent recycled materials in its bottles and cans by 2030.

“Demand for recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) currently exceeds supply so the first step to scaling up use of 100 per cent rPET across our portfolio is building a sustainable pipeline of high quality material,” says Chris Vallette, senior vice president of technical innovation and stewardship, Coca-Cola North America. “We do this by working with communities to boost PET recycling and collection; collaborating with recycling partners; and, finally, securing rPET to help ensure the material for our bottles is used again and again.”

Although there are a variety of enhanced waters on the market, keeping the bottles of spring water on store shelves is still important, says Jon Silver, president, Unique Foods (Canada) Inc., which carries the Icelandic Glacial water brand.

“Not everyone always wants an enhanced product but rather a refreshing crisp clean bottle of thirst quenching water,” says Silver. “Icelandic Glacial is one of the only carbon neutral waters in the world for both product and operation. The water has a natural PH level of 8.4 and the packaging is 100 per cent recycled plastic.”

Since 2005, BlueTriton Brands continues to work on plans to increase its use of recycled plastic and information from the company notes that access to quality rPET can be a challenge. The company says it is working with the Canadian Beverage Association to promote new recycling policies to capture and reuse as many PET beverage containers as possible while helping to educate consumers about the impact they can make by recycling and preventing valuable plastic materials from being discarded. 

As well as the Pure Life brand, BlueTriton introduced Ac+ion alkaline water to the market this year. 

“Alkaline is a new segment in water,” says information on the new product. “In the US, this segment is getting close to a billion dollars with 28 per cent growth in 2022, while in Canada, we are only at $8 million for the category and $5 million in convenience stores. Canada has seen huge growth of 225 per cent in 2022 of this small base. As consumers become more aware of the benefits of a high alkaline diet, this segment will soar. Ac+ion can be found in all of our convenience partner locations.”

Ac+ion alkaline water uses activated carbon technology to precisely filter the source water for unwanted impurities. It then passes through a membrane in a process known as reverse osmosis. This demineralizes the water to prepare it for ionization. Potassium bicarbonate is the key mineral added to deliver a 9.5 PH alkaline water. To finish the process, Ac+ion alkaline mineralized water undergoes microfiltration through micro-sized sieves. 

“The long-term consumer brand loyalty of Pure Life spring water has created opportunities for us to invest in innovations like Ac+ion alkaline water,” says Crystal Adkins, director C&G and regional accounts, BlueTriton Brands. “The convenience and gas channel in Canada has been extremely supportive of our launch of our new Ac+ion alkaline water and as a result we are investing the majority of our marketing dollars with this channel. As consumers become more aware of the many benefits of alkaline water, the segment will continue to grow and we believe it can get to $8 million in c-store within a few years.”

A recent study conducted by the International Bottled Water Association indicates that the consumer thirst for bottled water is stronger than ever. When asked about their general opinion of bottled water as a beverage choice, 84 per cent of Americans had a very positive or somewhat positive opinion. 

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