Given the myriad of challenges facing the refreshment services industry today, the last thing vending and OCS operators need is to be associated with products that negatively impact the environment or are of questionable safety.
Not only is this occurring, but it has afflicted one of the few products showing strong growth in recent years: bottled water. Opposition to bottled water is based on concerns about the environmental impact of packaging, depletion of water resources, and actual water quality.
IS PLASTIC THE ENEMY?
For years, soda and other beverages have been bottled in plastic, but once water in PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles came on the scene, the war began between environmentalists and plastics. Interestingly enough, the concern about plastic packaging does not extend to soda, energy drinks or other products.
The Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental organization, offers a pamphlet citing selective facts about bottled water, such as that nine out of 10 bottles of water end up as garbage or litter.
This lack of recycling is parroted in the Seattle Times, which reported Mayor Greg Nickels saying only one in 10 bottles is recycled. He complained bottled water is a waste of money and resources when compared to using city water. Chicago Alderman George Cardenas proposed a tax on bottled water due to the nearly $40 million shortfall in the city’s water and sewer funds because people weren’t using public water. He feels the tax will help dissuade people from buying bottled water.
THE INDUSTRY RESPONDS
The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) has answered the criticism with numerous press releases. It recommends any action to reduce the environmental impact of plastic be widespread and not against one industry – such as bottled water. All major manufacturers’ bottled water containers are recyclable and should be recycled through local municipality recycling systems, according to the IBWA.
IBWA further claims the bottled water industry is assisting in efforts to increase recycling programs.
PLASTIC IS RECYCLABLE
Plastic is a recyclable material that is turned into carpeting and textiles, with future applications for clothing, coating for paper and waterproofing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The American Plastics Council (APC) says plastics production accounts for 4 percent of U.S. energy consumption.
Plastics allow manufacturers to reduce materials used, energy consumed, and waste generated in making many products. In 1997, the APC estimated half of all U.S. communities, almost 19,400, collected plastics for recycling. The EPA reported 31 percent of PET bottles are recycled (both water and soft drink bottles). Over the past 15 years, the percentage of waste this country recycles has almost doubled.
The bottled water industry has already acted to reduce its environmental footprint through even lighter weight packaging and direct support in recycling education and advocacy programs.
MANUFACTURERS USE LESS PLASTIC
Nestlé Water North America reports that moving to PET bottles has optimized packaging weight, resulting in less environmental damage than earlier materials. Fifteen years ago, when bottles were made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), 90 grams produced just two 1.5-liter bottles, where the same amount of PET now produces three, a 33-percent reduction.
Nestlé has encouraged its main PET suppliers to manufacture resins with a lower than normal degree of viscosity, which has produced energy savings of 5 percent. A spokesperson for Nestlé noted the new “Eco-Shape” bottle available in the company’s spring water brands and Nestlé Pure Life has the least plastic content (30 percent less) of all half-liter bottles in the marketplace. It will reduce the company’s PET resin by 65 million pounds in 2008.
Recycling is an extremely important consideration to Nestlé Water North America. Its CEO, Kim Jeffery, is chairing the Recycling Task Force for the American Beverage Association to develop comprehensive recycling programs that could be models for significantly improving recycling rates.