The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has told Vivid Water Ltd - which stated ‘1 million boxes on 1 truck compared to 58 trucks needed to transport 1 million plastic bottles’ on its website for its Vivid Water In A Box brand – it can no longer make the claim as it failed to substantiate it when asked.
The ASA also found that the company could not substantiate the implication there was a health risk from PET bottles – a claim that it said was inferred by the statement ‘no PET no health threat from leaching’.
The National Hydration Council, a UK not-for-profit organisation whose members are producers of naturally sourced bottled water and include Danone Waters UK & Ireland, Nestle Waters, and Highland Spring Group, successfully challenged the advertising. The ASA has told Vivid Water that the ad must not appear again in its current form.
Lack of comparative data
Vivid Water in a Box is available in supermarket giant Tesco, health and beauty chain Superdrug, and at ZSL London Zoo (the zoo ditched all plastic water bottles in 2016).
The website waterinabox.co.uk, seen in February 2018, promoted recyclable carton packaged water with the phrase ‘Quench your thirst responsibly’. Further text stated: “Sadly plastic bottles are made from non-renewable resources and their greenhouse gas emissions are significantly higher than those of our boxes”.
The ad also featured an infographic and text: ‘1 million boxes on 1 truck compared to 58 trucks needed to transport 1 million plastic bottles’
Taking issue with the transportation comment, the ASA said Vivid Water had failed to substantiate the claim. “We understood that the claim was based on information Vivid Water received from an email from the carton industry trade body.
CAP Code on environmental claims
11.1: The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information.
"We noted that such information was included in that email, but was not however, supported with any comparative data.
"In the absence of such evidence, we concluded that the claim had not been substantiated, and was therefore misleading.”
PET health threat?
Text on waterinabox.co.uk’s website stated “our box does not contain PET so there is no health threat from leaching”.
Vivid Water stated that the issue of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) 'leaching into plastic bottles was well known' and a newspaper article had been recently published on this topic.
Vivid Water said its ad did not claim that PET leached into bottled water, but rather that PET leaching would not occur with their carton packaged water because it was made from polymer that was not PET-based.
The company provided an email it had received from the carton manufacturer, which stated that their cartons were not made from PET, but from polyethylene.
But the Natural Hydration Council argued that PET was safe to use as a packaging material for water, and that it complied with all European and national legal requirements.
The ASA said that consumers would interpret the phrase to mean that plastic packaging for bottled water presented health risks compared to carton based packaging.
Although Vivid Water referenced a newspaper article about an American study that tested leading brands of bottled water in Australia - which found a high proportion of bottles were contaminated with plastic debris including PET – it did not provide a full copy of the study that could demonstrate that PET in bottled water presented health risks.
Neither did an email from the carton manufacturer reference or contain evidence that PET packaging carried health risks.
The ASA said: “Because we had not seen evidence that PET bottled water presented health risks, we concluded that the claim “No PET no health threat from leaching” had not been substantiated and was misleading”.
Vivid has now removed the reference to PET from its website, stating instead that, with regards to its boxes, ‘There is no health threat from leaching’.
More similar rulings to come? Editor's comment
With consumers increasingly concerned about plastic waste, alternative water packaging formats have been clamouring to present themselves as more sustainable formats.
The lack of PET in cans or cartons may seem like a clear win: but this week’s ruling from the ASA serves as a warning that brands cannot make slapdash ‘greenwashing’ claims.
As scrutiny on plastic bottles continues to increase, attention to the claims made by other packaging formats will eventually increase as well.
Today’s packaged water brands need to be sure that they completely understand the pros and cons of the packaging format they have chosen - and not just take the word of their suppliers - as well as being particularly clear with their communication to consumers.