By Jill Culora
Bottled water reaffirmed its position as America’s favorite drink, outselling carbonated soft drinks (by volume) for the third year in a row in 2018. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), sales of bottled water grew by 7.3 percent in 2018, reaching $18.4 billion (wholesale) and consumption grew by 4.9 percent to 13.8 billion gallons (52.2 billion liters). In addition, per capita consumption was up 4.3 percent in 2018, with every person in America drinking an average of 42.3 gallons (160 liters) of bottled water last year. BMC also reported that bottled water has increased its ‘share of stomach’ of the overall beverage market from 14.1 percent in 2009 to 24.8 percent in 2018. Carbonated soft drinks hold the second position, with 21.9 percent, reflecting a clear trend of consumers increasingly choosing healthy, convenient, zero-calorie bottled water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
As anticipated, bottled water’s continued reign as the No.1 package beverage was met with backlash from its adversaries. Indeed, much of the traditional and social media coverage in 2019 has focused on the perceived environmental impact of the bottled water industry. The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) has stayed on the front line, monitoring news clips, responding timely to media requests and reaching out to editors and writers to make corrections in false or misleading articles. IBWA actively promotes the facts about bottle water’s very small environmental footprint, which includes points such as:
- It has the lowest water and energy use of all packaged beverages. On average, only 1.39 liters of water (including the liter of water consumed) and 0.24 mega joules of energy are used to produce one liter of finished bottled water.
- Bottled water is a very small water user. Of all the water used in the US, bottled water uses a very tiny amount: just 0.011 percent.
- Containers are 100-percent recyclable, even the cap. And PET plastic bottled water containers can be recycled over and over again.
- Consumers are the best recyclers in curbside recycling programs. Bottled water containers make up 54.6 percent of the PET plastic containers collected in curbside programs.
- The industry is working with partners (such as Keep America Beautiful and The Recycle Partnership) to educate consumers about the importance of recycling.
IBWA continues to be at the forefront in utilizing new and innovative digital communications tools and has a robust organic and paid social media presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube. The association’s recently launched podcast H2O In The Know highlights important industry issues, covering a range of topics from recycling and regulation to healthy hydration and water resource management. IBWA has also expanded its social media efforts by partnering with like-minded organizations (such as those mentioned above), along with other organizations, for its Put It In The Bin recycling campaign. This campaign harnesses the power of social media to help educate consumers about the value of recycling.
Water use best practices
Bottled water companies have a long, deeply held tradition of effectively and responsibly protecting, managing and using all water resources. Having long-term and sustainable water sources is essential for the bottled water industry, so IBWA members are notably efficient users of those water sources. As the leader for the industry on these issues, the organization helps to bolster its members’ water stewardship practices by developing guidance documents, such as the IBWA Water Stewardship Best Practices Guide. The Environmental Sustainability Committee developed the guide based on the Alliance for Water Stewardship international standard for water stewardship. The guide provides a reference for current or prospective members to use with existing facilities and when developing new bottling facilities. IBWA is currently developing a checklist to be used along with the guide.
This effort complements another project aimed at helping our members better manage their water use, the Water Risk and Best Practices Study. This study includes a best-practices framework, which is presented in five topic categories:
- Equipment check/process controls
- Meter use/water mapping
- Water recycling/reuse
- Supply monitoring/management
It is designed for all bottled water companies to use, regardless of production size, location and/or development stage of their water stewardship program. Key aspects of each best practice were divided into three approach categories: initial, advanced and leading. Members can use the information contained in this study to evaluate their current water stewardship practices against others in the industry and identify opportunities for improvement or outreach.
Bottled water plant siting and permitting opposition
Activist groups have seized upon plant siting and permitting activities as an opportunity to attack the bottled water industry. Their stated objective is to prevent bottled water companies from siting, permitting and re-permitting bottled water plants and is aimed at both groundwater and public water-source bottling facilities. These actions are often aimed at large bottled water companies; however, many of their proposals would also impact small and mid-size bottlers. Anti-bottled water groups perpetuate false claims that are built around fear, conspiracy and corporatization and directly tie them to the siting, permitting or re-permitting of bottled water plants.
IBWA’s Plant Siting and Permitting Working Group has developed a draft Best Practices Guide for Plant Siting, which will equip members with guidance and advocacy materials that are based on facts. Members use these materials to combat local efforts, respond to any anti-bottled water industry media stories, step up aggressive social media efforts, reach out to respected third-party organizations to seek their support and work with state and regional bottled water and business associations on this issue.
Safety of BPA
IBWA continues to actively monitor new developments and defend the safety of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical compound used in the manufacturing of polycarbonate plastic, which is used in many three- and five-gallon water cooler bottles. This includes responding to news stories and social media posts that contain false or inaccurate information about BPA and opposing local, state and federal bills that would restrict its use or negatively impact bottled water products. In June of 2019, IBWA submitted testimony in opposition of a bill in Pennsylvania that would prohibit the use of containers or food packaged in containers that contain BPA at a level of 0.1 ppb. IBWA’s comments to the committee cited the many studies espousing the safety of BPA, including the most recent research by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) known as CLARITY (Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on BPA Toxicity). At the time of printing this article, no further action on the bill had occurred. IBWA continues to monitor this proposed legislation and potential action in other states.
California’s Center for Environmental Health (CEH) filed a lawsuit in 2017 against a bottled water company, alleging that it violated Proposition 65 by failing to warn consumers that they may be exposed to BPA through the consumption of water bottled in three- and five-gallon polycarbonate plastic containers. (This litigation is particularly important for those companies that do business in California. But it has a greater significance for the entire US bottled water industry since other states may look to California as a model for action when considering the BPA issue.) The parties to the California lawsuit entered into a settlement agreement in 2018. Under the agreement, the bottled water company agreed to take the following actions:
Stamping covered products. Each newly manufactured polycarbonate bottle used to deliver or sell drinking water in California is stamped with the year of the bottle’s manufacture.
Covered products removal. Beginning on January 1, 2023, the company will remove from the active inventory of bottles, through a periodic review occurring at least once every three months, each bottle that is stamped with a manufacture date that is five or more years in the past. Any bottles not bearing a manufacture date will be removed from the active inventory of bottles only based on visible signs of wear.
Removing additional covered products from inventory. The company has agreed to remove older bottles that have been in use for the longest period and have visible signs of wear.
Timeframe. The company must increase the number of removed bottles over the baseline figure by one percent in the first year (2018), adding a percent each year until 2022.
IBWA continues its efforts to assist members in complying with FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was signed into law in 2011. As of late 2018, all bottled water companies, including very small companies, must comply with FDA’s final rule for Current Good Manufacturing Practices, Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventative Controls for Human Food. Among other things, this new rule requires food facilities to have preventive controls-qualified individuals (PCQIs) on staff.
To help members comply with this new requirement, IBWA conducted numerous PCQI training workshops in various locations around the US over the past two years and has held additional workshops in 2019. These workshops provide both member and non-member attendees an opportunity to become a PCQI for their facility(ies), in compliance with the new rule. The workshops are run by a Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA)-trained lead instructor. Attendees are trained in the development and application of risk-based preventive controls, which include preparation of the food safety plan and validation of the preventive controls. IBWA encourages all bottled water producers to participate in PCQI training and, as such, it has invited non-IBWA members to sign up for these workshops.
IBWA has taken a number of measures on microplastics, including forming a working group and collaborating with the European Federation of Bottled Waters to monitor and assess research and news stories reporting on claims about microplastics being found in food and beverages, including bottled water. IBWA continues to reach out to news editors and producers requesting that stories be updated or revised to include the industry’s point of view on this very serious topic. IBWA makes sure to point out that current research is not based on sound science and there is no scientific consensus on testing methodology or the potential health impacts of microplastic particles. Therefore, most published articles do nothing more than unnecessarily scare consumers. Recently, in August 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reaffirmed IBWA’s position, finding that there’s not enough evidence to conclude that microplastics pose any risk to human health. WHO’s position is that more research is needed to draw firm conclusions.
BMC predicts that bottled water will continue to build upon its growth history and gain more market share. As consumers continue to increasingly choose bottled water as their healthy hydration beverage, IBWA will continue to work hard to create a favorable business and public-affairs climate for the bottled water industry, as well as to proactively promote and strongly defend the interests of all its member companies.
About the author
Jill Culora is Vice President of Communications for IBWA. She holds a Post-Baccalaureate Degree in journalism from the University of King’s College (Halifax, Nova Scotia) and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in political science from Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia).
About the organization
IBWA is the authoritative source of information about all types of bottled waters, including spring, mineral, purified, artesian and sparkling. Founded in 1958, its membership includes US and international bottlers, distributors and suppliers. IBWA is committed to working with FDA, which regulates bottled water as a packaged food product, to set comprehensive and stringent standards for safe, high-quality bottled water products. In addition to FDA regulations, member bottlers must adhere to the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice, which mandates additional standards and practices that in some cases are more stringent than federal and state regulations. A key feature of the code is a mandatory annual plant inspection by an independent, third-party organization. IBWA is also a supporter of the Drink Up initiative, which encourages Americans to drink more water more often, whether from the tap, a filter or in a bottle. Choosing water is always the healthy choice.