Bottled water is often referred to as one of capitalism’s greatest mysteries: “the packaging and selling of something that is already freely available”[i]. We spend 10,000 times the amount on water bottles than we would if we just used tap water.[ii] However, 45% of bottled water comes from the municipal water supply, meaning that companies, including Aquafina and Dasani, simply treat tap water and bottle it up.[iii] The world bottled water market represents an annual volume of 89bn liters and is estimated to be worth US$22bn.[iv] The average world consumption of bottled water grows by 7% each year[v] raising questions about the product’s economic and environmental costs. Among the most significant concerns are the resources required to produce the plastic bottles and to deliver filled bottles to consumers, including both energy and water.[vi] Evian (owned by Danone) is number 1 in the world for still water sales by volume.4 Evian will have to adhere to future legislation regarding the consumption of plastic bottles and the process by which these bottles are made.
Danone recently announced it’s new climate policy to coincide with COP21, the United Nations’ conference on climate change.[vii] For the 15 years ahead, they have committed to reducing the carbon intensity of their emissions by 50%. In 2020, Evian will be the first Danone brand to be carbon neutral worldwide.[viii] To achieve this Evian will focus on two key levers to achieve its zero net carbon objective: reducing its carbon footprint and, restoring water-linked ecosystems.
Packaging represents 51% of Evian’s overall carbon footprint.[ix] The majority of the bottles are made out of PET, which cannot be recycled and thus most of the waste goes to landfills[x], if not ending up as litter on land, in rivers and oceans. PET is created from oil. To make the 50 billion plastic PET bottles each year it takes 1.5 million bottles of oil – enough oil to fuel 1 million cars for an entire year. To reduce this consumption, a research center dedicated to improving product packaging is located next to Evian’s bottling plant, focusing on for example, the increased percentage of recycled plastics used in Evian bottles, or the sourcing and use of plant-based plastics. Evian aims to use, on average, 25% of recycled plastics in its bottles by 2020. Another objective is, in collaboration with several other companies, to develop a bottle made of 100% plant-based plastic.
The production of bottled water is also highly inefficient, wasting tremendous amounts of water in the process. In 2011, it took more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide (0.1% of annual greenhouse gas emissions) to produce the amount of bottled water required for US consumption[xi]. It also takes energy to run the manufacturing plants and the bottling company and to clean and prepare the water for bottling. This stage of the product’s lifecycle represents 7% of Evian’s carbon footprint[ix] and the Evian plant, managed to reduce its energy consumption by 24.5% between 2008 and 2015 through efficiency savings.
Energy is required to ship the water once it is bottled. The Evian plant is equipped with a railway station, allowing 60% of its products to be shipped by train. Transport represents 42% of Evian’s total carbon footprint.[ix] Following a policy of continuous improvement, the focus over the coming years will be to develop a multi-mode transport solution so as to further increase the use of train freight.
In parallel of its carbon footprint reduction, Evian has been committed to protecting vital wetlands throughout the world via restoring mangroves via the Livelihoods Carbon Fund since 2008 in Senegal, India and Indonesia. Mangrove trees play a major role for the climate by naturally capturing and storing carbon present in the atmosphere.[ix]
Further steps Evian should take are to incentivize recycling of PET bottles and to raise customer awareness of a bottle’s potential second life through the act of sorting. Evian should offer money back for it’s bottles and sponsor recycling bottle banks at its major outlets. It could also strive to increase the recycling rate by promoting waste sorting at home. Too many households are not penalized for mixing their trash although this is changing.[xii]
Next time you reach for that bottle, don’t be naïve. Think about saving some money and the planet. Drink from the tap, it’s time to throttle the plastic bottle.
[i] Queiroz, J.T.M., Rosenberg, M.W., Heller, L., Zhouri, A.L.M., and Silva, S.R. (2012). News about Tap and Bottled Water: Can This Influence People’s Choices? Journal of Environmental Protection, 3, 324-333.
[iv] Catherine Ferrier, Bottled Water: Understanding a Social Phenomenon. A Journal of the Human Environment, 30(2), 118-119.
[vi] Pacific Institute (2006). Bottled Water and Energy. A Fact Sheet.
[vii] Danone Annual Report 2015
[x] Olson, E. (1999). Bottled Water. Pure Drink or Pure Hype? National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), New York.
[xi] Gleick, P.H, and Cooley, H.S. (2009). Energy implications of bottled water. Environmental Research Letters, 4, 1-6.