The 2009 Beverage Innovation Awards praised some of the year’s major sustainability initiatives from packaged water companies as well as producers of juice, energy drinks and soft drinks and the suppliers to these companies. This report by Nayl D'Souza looks at the environmental and ethical initiatives undertaken by businesses.
Nestlé's chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, recently emphasised that if we continue to treat water as a commodity without any price, the world will run out of water long before we run out of oil. The packaged water industry is playing its part to minimise raw material use as well as reduce the amount of water and energy used in manufacturing, and lessen unnecessary ‘food miles’ and carbon dioxide emissions.
Many of these measures are actually economic imperatives for any business to run efficiently, let alone to meet their obligations to protect the environment. Nevertheless, many companies in the packaged water industry appear to be going that extra mile to ensure the environment doesn’t suffer at the hands of an ambitious business growth strategy.
It's worth mentioning the fact that lightweighting not only reduces consumption of PET resin, but increases productivity and performance, maximises production cycles and, of course, satisfies consumer demand for sustainable development from manufacturers.
Sidel from France, Krones of Germany and PET Engineering of Italy have been at the forefront of demonstrating how light 50cl bottles for packaged water can be, with Krones and PET Engineering touting concepts with as little weight as 6.6g. The average 50cl PET bottle for non-sparkling water still weighs over 15g, so that’s quite a significant reduction.
Notwithstanding the technological triumphs delivered by these lightweighting activities, Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) adopted the technology from Sidel, rebranded it as Eco-Shape and delivers bottles for NWNA regional brands such as Arrowhead, Ozarka, Deer Park and Poland Spring weighing less than 12.5g – one of the lightest bottles available in the US market. By the end of 2009, the company is committed to delivering a 50cl PET bottle weighing less than 9.9g, which should ensure Nestlé Waters stays in a ‘best in class’ lightweighting position in the US until 2010.
The Beverage Innovation Awards programme also showcased a number of companies looking to break the mould by using alternative forms of packaging.
CannedWater4Kids is one such example of a charity water using an aluminium beverage can as its form of packaging. Last year, Llanllyr Water in the UK began producing water in cans, too. Of course, cans are perceived by consumers in some markets as being a sustainable alternative to PET packaging despite the fact that PET bottles are fully recyclable where facilities and recovery systems exist.
According to Eaux Vives Water, aluminium bottles could also be the future of the beverage packaging industry. The company is the first in North America (and as far as we know, the world) to provide spring water called Eska in aluminium bottles.
For other entrants of the competition, cartons provide a sustainable alternative to plastic bottles. Tetra Pak's Tetra Prisma Aseptic carton has been the basis for several recently launched products around the world, which could prove to the majors that paper board sourced from sustainable forest sources are worth considering as a viable option to PET. For example, Just Drinking Water from the UK has introduced Aquapax, which has benefited from a revamped pack in March 2009.
When looking at plastic bottles, there has been considerable media attention given to the possibilities of PLA (Polylactide Acid), a biopolymer made from natural sugar or starch products, in view of the volatile crude oil price and the evidence that the increased use of fossil fuels has resulted in adverse climate change. The stretch blow-molded PLA bottles of Primo Water, Naturally Iowa (US), Good Water (New Zealand), CoolChange Water (Australia), Sant’Anna (Italy) and many more have initiated increasing interest from the PET and beverage industry.
For those brand owners who remain unconvinced of the PLA technology as something that can't offer enough scalability, efficiency or feel it's too difficult to recycle or has a very short shelf life, biodegradable PET may be the answer.
In July 2009, Native Water was introduced. Bottled in biodegradable PET Enso bottles, the packaging uses a compound marketed as Ecopure, which is described by the company as an additive added to the plastic manufacturing process that allows the bottles to be metabolised and neutralised on a microbiological level, breaking down the plastic.
Enso claims the bottles maintain the same physical properties and strengths as existing PET plastic bottles, yet provide a more shelf-stable solution than starch-based PLA materials and oxo-degradable plastics. It states: “The bottles are biodegradable in both landfill and compost environments and can also be successfully mixed with standard PET plastic recycling.”
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the shape of things to come could also be more pouch-based than bottle led, especially bearing in mind the tendency to lightweight.
Spadel UK emphasises that Brecon Carreg is sustainably sourced in the Brecon Beacons National Park. In 2009, the company began using lighter preforms, which are more environmentally friendly, as part of a continuous improvement programme. For example, this will see its 75cl bottles drop in weight to 21g.
In addition, the labels have been reduced in size on the 1.5-litre and 2-litre bottles and paper from sustainable sources is being used. The paper weight of labels has also reduced from 85g per squared metre to 80g per squared metre, a saving of almost a tonne of paper per year across the 26 million labels used in a 12-month period. In addition, 300kg less glue is used for the labels – a saving by volume of 60% – by changing the adhesive application systems.
Logistics are being further improved so that the company aims to maximise the pallet and vehicle fill, cutting down on needless food miles. Customers are encouraged to order in full loads to reduce the number of drops and distance travelled.
Energy is also a key area for attention. A 19% energy saving was achieved between 2005 and 2008, and now all the energy used in the bottling facility at Brecon Carreg is sourced from a natural energy source.
In terms of land stewardship, the company is a custodian of a substantial part of one of the UK’s most precious assets – the Brecon Beacons Natural Park. The firm is a landowner in its own right, and along with the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (BBNPA), is also jointly responsible for the Black Mountain common land, which comprises approximately 21,000 acres around the Brecon Carreg source.
Ty Nant Spring Water is a bottled water company situated in the west Wales county of Ceredigion, which is equally proud of its environmental credentials. The impressive sustainability programme to reduce its environmental impacts includes woodland development. Ty Nant took possession of 200 acres of local evergreen conifer forest due for felling, and is in the process of replacing these trees with more environmentally friendly, broad-leafed trees on an extensive tree planting programme.
The replacement of fir trees (which give an acidic drain that can pollute rivers) by broadleaf trees will encourage the local wildlife and improve the environment, pulling in CO2 from the atmosphere while providing homes for native animals to live.
Besides this initiative, the company has reduced packaging, labelling and energy usage. Labelling sizes are kept to a minimum and print coverage on boxes has been reduced. Moreover, between 2007 and 2008, Ty Nant reduced its electricity usage by 57% and gas by 39%. There has been an overall decrease in CO2 emissions of 54.1% in the same period.
Ty Nant made the decision to blow its own PET bottles, as its distinctive design means they're difficult to process and label.
Also, by blowing bottles in-house, the need for lorries to transport bottles to the site has been eliminated. Ty Nant keeps 12 lorries off the road by having just one lorry bringing 750,000 preforms to the site.
**Nayl D'Souza is the former editor of Water Innovation magazine.**
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This article was first published
in Water Innovation.