Jill Culora is vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). Culora can be reached at [email protected].
Aug 11, 2021

The Bottled Water Industry & Environmental Sustainability

Conserving resources is the highest priority for the bottled water industry, which has a long history of water resource management and environmental sustainability

bottled water
Photo credit: CG Roxane

Conserving resources is the highest priority for the bottled water industry, which has a long history of water resource management and environmental sustainability. Bottled water companies have always been good stewards of the environment, continuously developing innovative and efficient ways to use and conserve resources, whether it be water, packaging materials or recycling.

The environmental consciousness we use to guide our resource management efforts extends to how we design our containers. Bottled water packaging, by design, has the smallest environmental impact of all beverage packaging types, as research shows that our container manufacturing processes use less water and energy than those that produce alternative packaging (such as cans, cartons and glass) and also produce less greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. All plastic bottled water containers are made using 100 percent recyclable plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polycarbonate (PC), and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). The most common container, the 16.9-ounce PET bottle, is the most recognized and recycled container in the world. Read on to learn what the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and its members are doing to ensure bottled water products are as sustainable as possible.

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Water Conservation

Valuing water is a critical operational component for bottled water companies. Why? Because the water sources must be available (municipal source) or renewable (groundwater source) in order to justify the substantial investment that bottled water manufacturers make to bring the water to market. Therefore, bottled water companies that use municipal source water must manage their water usage, while water resource management is a priority for groundwater bottlers.

Building a bottling plant is a very costly endeavor and is a business decision that is made only after extensive analysis of the water source’s sustainability and the plant’s potential environmental impact to ensure the long-term viability of water sources.

These measures include:

  • Auditing total water use at bottled water facilities
  • Implementing water use restrictions at their facilities
  • Reducing water extraction through improved water processing and bottling processes
  • Looking for leaks in all plant piping and tanks
  • Using efficient cleaning methods inside plants to reduce water usage when cleaning reusable 3- and 5-gallon bottles for water coolers used in homes and offices
  • Reducing water use when cleaning and sterilizing water pipes and storage tanks
  • Training employees to be good stewards of the environment and encouraging water conservation
  • Managing water withdrawals in a manner that ensures the long-term viability of groundwater sources
  • Using hydro-geological evaluations on springs to assess any potential impact on local groundwater levels and stream flows
  • Planting drought-resistant vegetation at bottling facilities

The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is a global collaboration of businesses, NGOs, and the public sector that commit to the use of water in a way that is socially and culturally equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically beneficial. IBWA member company BlueTriton Brands certifies its facilities to the AWS Standard and seeks to inspire others to adopt the Standard to help advance the principles and practices of water stewardship and responsible water resource management. BlueTriton says it is committed to being a leader in water stewardship, which means being committed to water management that is environmentally sustainable, helps ensure the well-being of people, and contributes to long-term prosperity for local communities.

IBWA members, like CG Roxane, are establishing new environmental stewardship standards by taking action for the planet and partnering with nonprofits, charitable organizations, and conservation trusts to protect the land and communities surrounding their sources. CG Roxane is setting those standards not only for the good of the water but also to help protect the planet and the communities we all call home.

CCR-San-Bernardino-Plant
Photo credit: CG Roxane

Plant Operations

With conservation in mind, bottled water bottlers are employing cutting-edge technologies to reduce the environmental impact of their plants. Several IBWA members are using alternative energy sources such as solar energy to power their plants. Using LED and automated lighting can also significantly decrease the amount of energy used to light plants and offices.

Primo Water North America achieved carbon neutral certification for its U.S. operations, reducing GHG emissions by 168,375 metric tons through the purchase of renewable energy and carbon offsets. And the company has achieved carbon neutral certification for its European subsidiary, Eden Springs, for the ninth consecutive year.

BlueTriton says it is focused on maintaining environmental certifications, such as ISO 14000 and U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

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Packaging Materials

Bottled water companies put as much care into their packaging design as they do their water conservation strategies, opting to use materials that protect the health and safety of their consumers while leaving a small environmental footprint. Producing, transporting, and recycling plastic bottled water containers use much less energy than aluminum, cartons, and glass containers. In addition, because of bottle light-weighting, bottled water producers have reduced plastic use by an average of 51 percent in recent years. All bottled water packaged in plastic containers are 100 percent recyclable, including the cap (but only when it is attached to the bottle). Most bottled water companies package their products using plastic or glass containers. Plastic containers comprise 97.3 percent of the bottled water market, while glass bottles account for 2.3 percent. As mentioned earlier, plastic bottled water containers are made from PET, PC, and HDPE plastics. PET accounts for 78.8 percent of plastic water bottles, PC for 12 percent, and HDPE for 9.2 percent.

IBWA member company Premium Waters strives to use the least amount of plastic possible when delivering safe, convenient, and quality water to its customers’ doors. Premium advocates for cross-industry packaging solutions through its membership in the Sustainable Packaging Coalition®, and they have been committed to actively developing and integrating sustainable business practices. From incorporating recycled plastic in its bottles to minimizing waste sent to landfills to going paperless for internal operations, and even using clean, renewable solar energy at one of their plants, Premium Waters says it intends to expand upon these initiatives heading into the future. 

As innovators, Niagara Bottling is always looking for ways to improve through technological advancements and processes that help it reduce its impact on the environment. Niagara’s Eco-Air Package® eliminates the need for a cardboard tray completely, and the cases take up less pallet space, which allows Niagara to ship more water per order and helps reduce CO₂ emissions. In the past 15 years, Niagara has reduced the amount of plastic in its Eco-Air® Bottle by more than 60 percent (On average vs. its original 1998 500ml bottle), and because of the reduced weight in this plastic, Niagara is able to transport more water per truck load, which reduces CO2 emissions, and use less plastic per bottle, which helps conserve valuable resources.

Premium Waters, Inc. harnesses renewable solar energy via solar panels in its Pittsfield, MA plant
Premium Waters, Inc. harnesses renewable solar energy via solar panels in its Pittsfield, MA plant

Reusing Resources

For many years, bottled water companies have been voluntarily including recycled PET plastic (rPET) in their containers. Many bottled water companies have embraced using rPET packaging, offering their product in containers that are made of 50, 75, or even 100 percent rPET. Beverage Marketing Corporation reports that, for those bottled water companies that use rPET, the average amount of rPET per container went from 3.3 to 18.2 percent between 2008 and 2017–a 452 percent increase.

Many IBWA bottlers are making strides on their pledges to use more recycled plastic and explore new materials for alternative packaging solutions. BlueTriton is an example of one bottler that is thinking beyond the bottle and committing to sustainable packaging practices. In 2018, the company announced a goal to use 25% rPET across its U.S. domestic portfolio by 2021 and 50% rPET by 2025. In December 2020, BlueTriton reached 20% rPET use across our U.S. portfolio.

Niagara says that increasing its recycled content usage has driven a 12% average reduction in GHG impact per bottle. Niagara is currently working with a broad set of partners and government to increase the amount of recycled content available so that it can use even more.

Transportation

Most bottled water is produced and consumed locally. Water is heavy; therefore, trucking and shipping water great distances is expensive and time consuming -- and isn’t part of most bottled water companies’ business models. Many IBWA bottlers use low emission vehicles to transport water to their customers while also decreasing the size of their environmental footprint.

Primo Water North America achieved carbon neutrality across its U.S. operations in October 2020. The company’s carbon neutrality focus includes pursuing cleaner and leaner operations and using more renewable energy. For example, over the past years, Primo has shifted some of its transportation fleet from diesel to propane-powered vehicles to reduce carbon emissions and have optimized mileage by implementing route planning technologies. Propane is a domestically produced fuel in abundant supply, which is also 75% cleaner than the current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for nitrogen oxide emissions. Primo continues to replace older model diesel vehicles in its delivery fleet with propane-powered vehicles that deliver greater fuel efficiency and help lower the company’s GHG emissions.

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The Afterlife of a Water Bottle

The packaging used to bottle water – whether plastic, aluminum, or glass – is 100 percent recyclable. Empty bottled water containers (including the caps) should always be placed in a recycle bin. By collecting these bottles and reusing the plastic to make new containers from old ones, less virgin plastic is needed in the marketplace. This concept is part of what makes a circular economy: minimizing waste and making the most of existing resources. The bottled water industry has a vested interest in promoting recycling efforts because bottled water companies need post-consumer PET bottles in order to make new bottles using rPET and rHDPE. IBWA supports expansion and improvement of recycling programs through its collaboration with The Recycling Partnership, as well as vital consumer education about the value of recycling, which IBWA works closely with Keep America Beautiful to achieve.

IBWA member company Danone has signed on with B Corp, which is a movement of companies verified to meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, using their business as a force for good. Danone is committed to the B Corp journey, with approximately 50% of global sales B Corp certified to date. Danone has committed to sustainable sourcing for all of its ingredients and to enhance the circular economy of packaging. The company plays its part in helping fight climate change by implementing carbon positive solutions and aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Bottled Water: A Healthy Choice for You & the Planet

Bottled water is the No.1 packaged beverage in the United States for a fifth year in a row, and—even with its continued growth and increased consumption—bottled water still has the smallest water and energy use footprints of any packaged beverage. (See details here) Americans are making great efforts to live a better lifestyle by choosing healthier foods and beverages, and drinking water—tap, bottled, or filtered—should be encouraged. With the high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in our on-the-go society, bottled water provides a safe, healthy, convenient beverage choice that is proudly produced by environmentally responsible companies.

About the author

Jill Culora is vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). Culora can be reached at [email protected].

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