Plant-based bottles & edible packaging: What does sustainability look like in the bottled water industry?

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: getty/choness
Pic: getty/choness

Related tags Water Bottled water Packaging

A focus on sustainability is becoming more and more important across all industry sectors: and the bottled water industry is no exception. Plant-based bottles, edible and biodegradable packaging, and programs on water stewardship are all initiatives being developed in the sector.

With a consumer focus on health and wellness, the bottled water industry continues to grow. Growing at a CAGR of 6.8% from 2006 to 2016, the global packaged water market has reached nearly 400bn liters. In value terms, a CAGR of 5.9% has taken the industry to a value of $177bn.

Collective action – both within the industry and with external stakeholders – should be a key component of sustainability initiatives for the bottled water industry, according to Richard Hall, chairman, Zenith Global. 

Taking place in Barcelona this month, Zenith’s Global Bottled Water Congress will include a spotlight this year on the potential of industry-wide initiatives, along with a number of case studies of current projects on sustainability. 

Nestlé Waters will speak on a proposed initiative for an industry-wide standard for water quality and measures for protecting the sustainability of water sources; the Alliance for Water Stewardship (UK) will speak on ensuring an industry standard for water certification; and Italian mineral water brand Ferrarelle will present a case study on its solar panels and recycling plant.

From sourcing to recycling

A focus on sustainability will continue to grow in importance in the coming years, says Richard Hall, chairman, Zenith Global – not only in the bottled water sector, but in all industries.

Take for example the car industry, which is seeing radical change: the UK and France have announced they will prohibit the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, and there are indications that other governments will make similar pledges.

“This year, the Global Bottled Water Congress will have a focus on industry issues and the opportunities for collective action, especially sustainability,” ​said Hall. “It’s not a new topic, but we’re putting an extra emphasis on it.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the industry is consumer perceptions about oil-based packaging going to waste. So there’s the issue of the source of the packaging, and then what happens to the packaging”.

Developing plant-based PET is one way to address the source of the packaging. This year, for example, Danone and Nestlé Waters announced a partnership with Origin Materials, a Californian research and development company, to form the Natur’ALL Bottle Alliance.

Their aim is to be the first to commercialize 100% bio-based and recyclable PET bottles. To do so, biomass materials, such as old cardboard and wood pulp will be used so as not to divert resources from food production. Pilot production has already begun and the first bottles are expected to hit the shelves by 2020.

Meanwhile, the concept of edible packaging is being brought to life by Skipping Rocks Lab, a sustainable packaging start-up based in London. It has created Ooho: spherical flexible packaging that is made from plants and seaweed.

ooho image
Pic: Skipping Rock Labs

According to the company, the packaging is cheaper than plastic; is biodegradable in 4-6 weeks (comparable to a piece of fruit) and edible (it can be flavored and colored). Ooho’s creator will also be speaking at the congress in Barcelona.

There is also the question of what happens to PET after it is used: with the need for all stakeholders to work together on encouraging recycling and re-use, said Hall. 

“The best route for PET, having created it, is to find another use for it. We need the circular economy to work effectively. Consumers need clarity and simple ways to ensure that PET should and can be collected and recycled.

“That’s not something one sector can resolve, but we can take the initiative on partnerships with other industry sectors and governments to ensure that materials are not wasted.”

The Global Bottled Water Congress in Barcelona (October 23-25) will cover a range of key themes for the industry and provide networking opportunities for industry leaders, suppliers, customers and analysts to gain strategic insight for essential business planning. Delegates will hear from top international and regional manufacturers on broader market and strategic initiatives as well from smaller industry players and entrepreneurs presenting their new products and concepts.

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