By Jill Culora

Bottled water reaffirmed its position as America’s favorite drink by outselling carbonated soft drinks (by volume) for the fourth year in a row in 2019. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), sales of bottled water grew by 5.2 percent in 2019, reaching $34.6 billion USD (retail) and consumption grew by 3.6 percent to 14.4 billion gallons (54.5 billion liters). In addition, per capita consumption was up 3.1 percent in 2019, with every person in America drinking an average of 43.7 gallons (165 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 25.5 percent in 2019. Carbonated soft drinks hold the second position, with 21.4 percent, reflecting a clear trend of consumers increasingly choosing healthy, convenient, zero-calorie bottled water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. In fact, 66 percent of the growth in bottled water sales (from 2006 to 2019) has come from people switching from soft drinks and fruit drinks to bottled water.

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) has always 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. Some observations from the past year include:

  • Backlash against the industry took a back seat in early 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused people to stockpile bottled water, despite no authority advising people to do so. Social media posts and stories that disparaged bottled water, mostly for perceived environmental impacts, were down 81 percent in the second quarter of 2020 (2,910 posts versus 15,221 posts in 2019).
  • 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 one 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. All bottled water containers are 100-percent recyclable—even the caps. And PET plastic bottled water containers can be recycled over and over again. Research shows that bottled water drinkers are the best recyclers, with water containers making up approximately 55 percent in curbside recycling 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 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 #PutItInTheBin recycling campaign. This campaign harnesses the power of social media to help educate consumers about the value of recycling.

IBWA’s COVID-19 response
From the start of the COVID-19 public health crisis, IBWA staff worked hard to make sure its members had the information they needed to stay in business successfully through the pandemic. IBWA issued regular email bulletins for its members and developed a COVID-19 members-only handbook, which pulled together a vast variety of information and resources, and also offered guidance on operating a facility during the COVID-19 pandemic. IBWA drew this information and guidance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), Hogan Lovells (IBWA’s outside counsel) and other organizations. IBWA continues update its members and revise its handbook to incorporate new government and IBWA updates as these occur.

In addition, IBWA created a COVID-19 Information and Resources webpage to provide members with a central, online location to go to for relevant and timely information about the COVID-19 crisis. Members are encouraged to visit this page if they are looking for general COVID-19 information they can share with their consumers; answers to frequently asked questions (e.g., “Can I get the coronavirus from food, food packaging or food containers?”); state business-closure updates and helpful resources published by the CDC, FDA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, US Chamber of Commerce, US Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and US Department of Labor, among others. The web page also highlights IBWA member charitable activities, such as donating well over a million bottles of water and numerous face shields to healthcare workers and others around the country. IBWA continues to work hard to make sure that its members have the information they need to conduct business successfully during this crisis.

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 bottled water 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. IBWA’s 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 has developed 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
  • Training/education
  • 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 are 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 Best Practices Guide for Plant Siting. This guide is a tool that bottlers can use to review the requirements for developing a bottling facility and help them integrate with the community and develop a working relationship that is mutually beneficial.

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 opposed a bill in Pennsylvania that would prohibit the use of containers or food packaged in containers (which include bottled water containers) that contain BPA at a level of 0.1 parts per billion (ppb). IBWA pointed out the many studies that demonstrate the safety of BPA, including the most recent research by FDA known as CLARITY (Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on BPA Toxicity). At press time, no further action on the bill had occurred. IBWA continues to monitor proposed legislation and potential action in other states.

And more recently in 2020, IBWA worked with allies to prevent the advancement of a Virginia House Bill 640 that called for prohibiting the manufacture, sale or distribution of any container intended for the storage of liquid food or beverages that contains the industrial chemical BPA. The most concerning aspect of the bill was that it directly cited ‘commercial water cooler jugs’ as a target for the prohibition.

FSMA deadlines
IBWA continues its efforts to assist members in complying with FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). 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 three years and continues to offer workshops as requested. These workshops provide both member and non-member attendees an opportunity to become a PCQI for their facility(ies), in compliance with the preventive controls 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 continues to follow microplastics developments through its working group and collaboration 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. In August 2019, the WHO reaffirmed IBWA’s position, finding that there’s not enough evidence to conclude that microplastics pose any risk to human health.

Looking ahead
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.


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