By Jill Culora

Bottled water reaffirmed its position as America’s favorite packaged beverage by outselling carbonated soft drinks (by volume) for the fifth year in a row in 2020. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), sales of bottled water grew by 4.7 percent in 2020, reaching $36.3 billion (retail) and consumption grew by 4.2 percent to 15 billion gallons (56.8 billion liters). In addition, per capita consumption was up 3.5 percent in 2020, with every person in America drinking an average of 45.2 gallons (171 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 23.6 percent in 2020. Carbonated soft drinks hold the second position, with 18.3 percent, reflecting a clear trend of consumers increasingly choosing healthy, convenient, zero-calorie bottled water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. In fact, 44 percent of the growth in bottled water sales (from 2010 to 2020) has come from people switching from soft drinks and fruit drinks to bottled water.

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) advocates on behalf of the industry by focusing on the issues that are important to our members, consumers, and government: government affairs (local, state, and federal), environmental sustainability; science; technology; and communications. The Association unifies the bottled water industry and represents uncompromising commitment to the safety and availability of bottled water.

Communications and media activity
IBWA has always stayed on the front line, monitoring news clips, responding timely to media requests and informing editors and writers when a false or misleading article requires a correction. Some observations from the past year include:

  • As water scarcity issues continue to worsen in the western part of the United States, IBWA developed a microsite——to help with its education and advocacy efforts. The site is designed to provide the facts about the bottled water industry’s small water use because oftentimes social media and news reports incorrectly claim that the industry is a large water user. The fact is bottled water is a very small water user. Of all the water used in the United States, bottled water uses a very tiny amount – just 0.01 percent. In addition, most bottled water that is sourced in a region (whether from a municipal or groundwater source) is consumed in that same region. Trucking bottled water great distances is not economically viable for the vast majority of bottled water businesses.
  • News articles concerning PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination in tap water are increasingly drawing attention to IBWA’s self-imposed mandatory testing requirements and standards of quality (SOQ) in member company bottled water products. IBWA’s PFAS SOQs of 5 ppt for one PFAS and 10 ppt for more than one PFAS are substantially below US EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt for tap water. Testing for PFAS provides consumers, local and state governments, and disaster and emergency relief personnel further assurance that bottled water is a safe and convenient product for everyday use and in times of need when tap water is compromised. This industry-led action underscores the commitment of IBWA members to always provide consumers with the safest and highest quality bottled water products.
  • Social media continues to be a popular way for people to receive information and IBWA is constantly building online tools in the form of graphics and quizzes to educate consumers about bottled water, such as the fact that bottled water has the smallest environmental footprint of all packaged drinks. On average, it takes only 1.39 liters of water to produce one liter of finished bottled water (including the one liter of water consumed) and only 0.21 mega joules of energy (on average) are used to produce one liter of bottle of water — the lowest water- and energy-use ratios of any packaged beverage product.
  • IBWA developed a new series of infographics that actively promotes the fact that, in addition to being the lowest water user to produce its contents, bottle water’s PET packaging also has the smallest environmental footprint of all other packaging types, including aluminum, glass, paperboard cartons, and even PET soda bottles. The infographics detail conclusions from a Trayak LCA study that show how the production of 16.9 oz PET bottled water containers (the most popular size among consumers) uses less water and less fossil fuels, and emits less greenhouse gases than the production any similarly sized packaging alternative. (See graphic here: content/uploads/2021/05/Environmental_Impact_of_Drink_Packaging_2021_800.jpg)
  • The industry is working with partners (such as Keep America Beautiful and The Recycle Partnership) to educate consumers about the importance of recycling. All bottled water containers are 100-percent recyclable – even the cap. And, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources, 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.
  • 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, YouTube and now TikTok. 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) for its #PutItInTheBin recycling campaign. This campaign harnesses the power of social media to help educate consumers about the value of recycling. In addition, IBWA’s flagship magazine, Bottled Water Reporter, which is available to members in both print and digital editions, won an APEX award for publication excellence in 2021.

Government affairs
At the federal, state, and local levels, IBWA works on numerous legislative issues that could either benefit the bottled water industry or potentially harm it. Nearly every state addresses bottled water issues—a fact that is reflected by the more than 1,000 pieces of legislation that are introduced in state legislatures and various state government agencies each year. In addition, the states consider more than 400 proposed regulations annually that could impact the bottled water industry.

Water cooler tariffs
IBWA continues to lead efforts to reinstate exclusions on tariffs imposed on water coolers and component parts from China. The industry received exclusions from those tariffs in 2018, 2019, and 2020, but unfortunately, that exclusion was not renewed for 2021. IBWA is working to have the exclusion reinstated because these increase costs combined with the negative financial impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental to American bottled water manufacturing and jobs reliant upon the home and office delivery sector of the industry. IBWA is an active member of the American for Free Trade coalition, which is a group of industry trade organizations whose members are similarly impacted by tariffs imposed on Chinese imports. IBWA has met with several members of Congress to encourage their support of extending critical exclusions and will continue to do so until the Biden Administration reopens the exclusions process. IBWA has also met with US Trade Representative (USTR) staff to discuss this issue in detail.

Water stewardship
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 association helps to bolster its members’ water stewardship practices by developing guidance documents, such as the IBWA Water Stewardship Best Practices Framework Guidance and Water Stewardship Best Practices Guide.

The guides are designed for all bottled water companies to use—regardless of production size, location and/or development stage of their water stewardship programs. Key aspects of each best practice were divided into three approach categories: initial, advanced and leading. Members can use the information contained in this document to evaluate their current water stewardship practices against others in the industry and identify opportunities for improvement or outreach.

In addition, all IBWA bottler members that produce bottled water from a groundwater source comply with the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice, which sets out the following criteria for source water monitoring and protection:

  • An evaluation of the chemical, physical, microbiological, and radiological characteristics of the source
  • the specific site geology. A description of the vertical and horizontal extent of the source aquifer using existing data. The information will be used to define the recharge area of the aquifer, or in the case of regional aquifers, the zone of influence of the subject source.
  • A report detailing the development of the source; the method of construction including spring design, well installation, surface catchment, intake structures and transmission facilities as appropriate
  • A watershed survey of the recharge area or zone of influence of subject source that identifies and evaluates actual and potential sources of contamination, which shall be updated every three years, including any reported discharge that may affect the source
  • Based on the findings of the watershed survey, a plan for special monitoring of any significant contaminant source and for taking restrictive preventive or corrective measures as appropriate to protect the source water

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. That 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 3- and 5-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. IBWA continues to monitor proposed legislation and potential action federally and in all states.

FSMA compliance
IBWA continues its efforts to assist members in complying with FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). 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 Preventive Controls for Human Food. Among other things, the rule requires food facilities to have preventive controls-qualified individuals (PCQIs) on staff.

To help members comply with that requirement, IBWA conducted numerous PCQI training workshops in various locations around the United States over the past three years and continues to offer workshops as requested. Those 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 the workshops.

IBWA continues to follow microplastics developments, through its working group and collaboration with the Natural Mineral Waters Europe (NMWE), to monitor and assess research and news stories reporting on claims about microplastics being found in food and beverages, including bottled water. It is important to note that there is currently no scientific consensus on a testing methodology or the potential health impacts of microplastic particles, which are found in all aspects of our environment – soil, air and water. Therefore, reports in the media and online do nothing more than unnecessarily scare consumers.

A research study, “Analysis of microplastics in drinking water and other clean water samples with micro-Raman and micro-infrared spectroscopy: minimum requirements and best practice guidelines,” was published in July in the journal of Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry following three years of work by the NMWE Technical Working Group. The paper proposes quality criteria for analysis of microplastics, including the sampling method, sample size, sample processing and storage, laboratory preparation, clean air conditions, positive and negative controls, sample treatment and polymer identification using micro-Raman and micro-infrared spectroscopy. This research study provides a framework for harmonization and standardization of methods in Europe and globally for microplastic analysis.

IBWA is also monitoring the implementation of a 2018 law that requires the California Water Resources Control Board (CASWRCB) to adopt a definition, test methodology and accreditation requirements for laboratories to test for microplastics in drinking water. The CASWRCB adopted its definition in July of 2020 and plans to finalize test methodologies and accreditation requirements for laboratories to analyze microplastics in the fall of 2021.

COVID-19 impact
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 variety of information and resources, and also offered guidance on operating a facility during the pandemic. 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.

The temporary office closings during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the office delivery segment of the bottled water industry; however, bottlers experienced record highs in residential business throughout the past year. Many consumers recognized the benefits of e-commerce and rapidly adopted direct-to-consumer services as an added convenience to their lifestyle. Those consumers report that they plan to continue having bottled water delivered to their homes post-pandemic. With more and more offices reopening in the United States, the industry is optimistic that office deliveries will rebound.

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 VP 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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