February 20, 2020

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Packaging, Waste & The Contest Between Bottled vs. Tap Water & Soda: Nestlé Waters Responds to Critics

Research shows that when consumers don’t have the option of bottled water, they will choose a less healthy, more sugary beverage.


by Heidi Paul                       

Again, thanks to all who participated in the Twitter chat on June 18th to discuss our 2012 Creating Shared Value (CSV) Report under the hashtag #SharedValue. After discussing our shared value model as well as the debate over water as a human right, today I will address the following:

  • Bottled water vs. tap vs. soda
  • Packaging responsibility and waste
  • Convenience
  • Consumer behavior and marketing
  • Price bottles to encourage recycling

Bottled vs. Tap Water vs. Soda

To @egerdt [Why focus so much on bottled water when we could have drinkable tap water that tastes good?] and @JohnFriedman [1) Does NW consider bottled water substitute for tap or soft drinks? Do data bear this out? 2) In some countries - i.e. Thailand - they sell purified water & people fill own bottles. Is @NestleWatersNA  considering a similar model?], bottled water is a choice among other packaged beverages. Shifts in what people drink in the past 10 years show declines in carbonated soft drinks and increases in bottled water. People are getting back to water, and we endorse healthy hydration and drinking more water, regardless of whether it comes from a bottle, the filter or tap.

@Dataeco brought up a pertinent question about choice [Is bottled water *really* a substitute for Coke? Has that really been proven?] while @bizsocially asked if people want to buy fancy bottled water, how is that different from buying coke. While soda and bottled water compete in the packaged beverage aisle, we see bottled water as a healthier alternative. Research shows that when consumers don’t have the option of bottled water, they will choose a less healthy, more sugary beverage.

Beverage Marketing Corporation, an analyst firm, says that most of the sales growth for bottled water has come from people leaving sugary beverages, which to us signals that consumers want healthier options. Most people who drink bottled water also drink tap water. Half the water consumed in America comes from each source, which demonstrates the important role bottled water plays in increasing America’s thirst for water over sugared beverages.

As for ‏@foodandwater who commented that "Bottled water is one of the biggest consumer scams in history. It's no cleaner or safer than tap water," by federal law, bottled water regulatory limits must be  as protective of public health as standards by the U.S. EPA for municipal drinking water. In fact, federal regulations are more stringent for bottled water than for tap water when it comes to allowable levels of lead and coliform bacteria.

If you’d like to know more about the quality of NWNA bottled waters, you can access the company’s Nestle Pure Lifewater quality reports, similar to those published by public water utilities. These are published for all NWNA brands and are available online or by calling the toll-free number on your bottle label.

To wrap up this section, I'd like to address @JohnFriedman’s question on whether we have thought about the model of people refilling their own bottles from water we sell. We operate a returnable bottled water business with one million customers who purchase either 3- or 5-gallon cooler size containers. These bottles are picked up by the company after use, cleaned and sanitized, then refilled and sealed.

We have also introduced certain sizes of bottles with 50 percent recycled plastic (rPET) in three of our brands: Resource, Arrowhead, and Deer Park Spring Waters, with the goal of advocating for better recycling laws, collecting more plastic that can be recycled, and providing a steady supply of rPet to use.   

Packaging Responsibility and Waste

Several questions came up related to the topic of packaging and waste, both of which we are integrally involved in improving including our participation in Extended Producer Responsibility [EPR]. A sample:

@bennuworld: Wonder if @NestleWatersNA would also consider selling a spiffy reusable water bottle?

@Nikishka: @CocaCola just implemented the #PlantBottle. Is @NestleWatersNA looking at similar/better options? If so, can you elaborate?

@SGogliettino: Polymers can be made from corn using biotech thus creating biodegradable plastics. Is that sustainable?

@mbauerc: On #Packaging #innovation & #recycling section, biggest challenge to help increase 29% recycling rates?

@aksvi: what's Nestle doing about end of consumer waste?

We have not looked at producing portable refillable bottles, but many of our customers of the 3 and 5 gallon returnable bottles use their own portable water bottles when they want to carry water on the go.

What we have done is reduce the impact of our bottles and increase recycling rates. Our goal is to have a lower footprint than other packaged beverage options. That’s why we lightweighted our half liter Eco-shape® bottles. Weighing less than half an ounce, the bottle uses an average of 30 percent less plastic than similar size carbonated and non-carbonated beverages and the label is 35 percent smaller than five years ago. We estimate that we’ve saved 3.3 billion pounds of PET plastic resin since 2003 and almost 10 million pounds of paper annually from these changes.

PET is one of the best packaging materials because it is lightweight, stable and has one of the lightest footprints as compared to other packaging materials. PET is also approved by the FDA and does not PETcontain BPA. Plus, PET bottles are 100 percent recyclable and can be reused for making other bottles, carpets, clothing, etc.

To @SGogliettino and @Nikishka, we have an active program to study new packaging materials that may be more sustainable and equally safe and reliable from the perspective of safeguarding consumer health. Many biodegradable materials are from agricultural products and thus compete with food production.

Until there is a feedstock for bio-degradeable materials that are not grown on agricultural lands and have a lower environmental footprint than the current bottle, we will not pursue this avenue. Another concern of some bio-degradeable materials is they can contaminate the plastic recycling stream.

To @mbauerc, one of our goals is to raise recycling rates significantly in North America. But recycling rates only rise when a system is accessible, efficient, affordable to society, and has support and participation from consumers and producers. That’s why, to also answer @aksvi, we are addressing post-consumer waste by advocating for EPR, a recycling model in which the industry that produces the products is responsible for getting the material back so it can be reused.

Convenience: Drinking Out of a Package

@Stuartkudos: 1) All this (in developed nations) boils down to price of convenience. Is it worth destroying the planet? 2) Nestle and others will find ways to provide what the market dictates it wants. Right now convenience seems to be top of list. 

It’s true that we're all on the go, and today 70 percent of what Americans drink comes out of a package. So yes, the market does indicate that people want beverages that are convenient for their on-the-go lifestyle and bottled water offers the healthiest option with the lightest footprint.

Also, it's important to note that bottled water is an efficient user of resources and uses less energy, packaging and water to produce than other packaged beverages. So bottled water delivers value by saving resources that alternative beverages would have used. Anyone who is creating a packaged beverage, including bottled water, should be trying to minimize their impact whenever possible. Here's more on our packaging responsibility commitments.

Consumer Behavior and Marketing

‏@Leadthediff: What position does @NestleWatersNA take to educate consumers in marketing/products?

@JohnFriedman: Beyond own footprint has @NestleWatersNA looked at ways to drive post-consumer behavior when it comes to reducing waste?

@practicallygrn: @NestleWatersNA has massive recycling mojo. What has worked best to get people to switch to better recycling habits?

@susanheaney: How can we drive behavior change away from single serve bottles for water etc.? Even if “eco” it drives a LOT of #waste. 

To @Leadthediff’s question about educating consumers on marketing, our marketing encourages families to choose water over sugared beverages, and we think that’s a good thing. With one third of soft drinkAmerican children overweight or obese, water – in any form – is a responsible choice. We touched upon this issue in the chat [see Q. 12] as well.

As for @JohnFriedman's question, with a commitment of $3 million over the past four years, NWNA supports Keep America Beautiful (KAB) and its projects to improve plastic recycling rates in the U.S. In 2011, the company funded Keep America Beautiful’s inaugural RecycleBowl, a competition that challenged 500,000 elementary, middle and high school students to recycle more of their waste. Participating schools recycled over two million pounds of recyclables in more than 47 states.

To @practicallygrn and @susanheaney, we drive change in consumer behavior by putting a reminder to recycle on each of our bottles and by educating consumers about the value of recycling through initiatives. For example, this past October, we conducted a first-of-its-kind mobile education tour in the Washington, D.C., area.  

By visiting the Deer Park interactive mobile vehicle, consumers were able to witness recycling come to life through games and exhibits. Additionally, our event sponsorships – like Poland Spring’s sponsorship of the ING New York City Marathon, always feature strong recycling education components. In 2010, 65,000 1-gallon bottles were recycled along the marathon course.

Putting a Price on Bottles to Encourage Recycling

@AngryAfrican asked whether we have considered increasing recycling rates by putting a price on the bottle to provide an incentive. His question was backed up by comments from @LiisaMaijaHarju who offered Finland as an example for creating a "price on the bottle" system in place and @EnvtlDebt who said: "Only real cost for the bottle will change behavior. A responsible company encourages responsible consumers." 

Bottle bills effectively encourage people to return redeemable beverage containers, but what about the rest of the recyclable waste stream? If we take valuable materials like aluminum and plastic out of a curbside recycling program that is designed to get all the other recyclables back, then the cost of the curbside system increases. Plus there would be two competing infrastructure systems to pay for. 

We need one comprehensive system to drive efficiency. 

We appreciate this conversation, so please don’t hesitate to contribute by tweeting to us at @NestleWatersNA using the #SharedValue hashtag.  

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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