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Accountability in the CPG Industry

In 2015, the US Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry sales totaled about $635.8 billion. In 2020, sales are expected to hit $721.8 billion. It is one of the largest and most successful industries in North America; even with a decrease in disposable income, the industry continues to grow1. However, with exponential growth comes excess waste and the untold truth behind green marketing. 

In an effort to become more sustainable, organizations and individuals in the U.S. turn their attention toward ways in which we should be conserving, reducing, and protecting our environment. Here is the sad truth, however - of those individuals and organizations, only 2% will represent the 80% of U.S. economic population. This means that others are simply left in the dust and are not impacted by the millions of dollars spent on green marketing.

As a bottled water company categorized within the CPG industry, we're acutely aware of the necessary change that's needed. Let's not only be mindful of the products we use, but commit to call for change and action within the industry. The first step is to take accountability.

Waiakea founder, Ryan Emmons, talks about bottled water, sustainability, and what we can do to try and change the beverage industry for the better in a feature on Environmental Leader:

"The sustainability of bottled water has been a consistently tested and embittered subject for a variety of reasons. Issues with its packaging and sourcing have remained high profile, most specifically the repurposing of public water for profits by some of the largest corporations in the world. Thus, many brand bottled water as an unnecessary luxury that privatizes a God given right. However, not all bottled water is created equal, and not all of it is evil.

 

Let me be forthright. I am the CEO of a bottled water companyalbeit an altruistic one. I am someone who has always been deeply passionate about sustainable living.  I care about the planet and consistently find myself thinking about our future. The reality is this- bottled water is not going away.

 

Truthfully, if my local municipality does have a sustainable and clean water supply, it makes no sense for me to purchase a bottle of water that simply bottles and resells that same tap water, unless it is out of convenience. I understand people’s frustration with this. However, many single-sourced natural bottled waters have associated health benefits that tap does not, whether it’s in the form of natural minerals or alkalinity.

Throughout the world, and even in places throughout the United States, bottled water represents a necessary and safe source of drinking water when municipal systems are not reliable.

 

In April 2014, in the industrial city of Lanzhou in the northwest, a leak from an oil company’s pipeline poisoned tap water for 2.4 million locals. It was contaminated with carcinogenic benzene. Here in the United States, we often take our tap water for granted, yet a carefully researched, documented and peer-reviewed study by the National Resources Defense Council found that in 19 US cities, pollution, as well as deteriorating, out-of-date plumbing are posing health risks for residents. Don’t take this the wrong way. I am not condemning tap water. I drink and use tap water daily, and I am lucky to be able to do so. The problem is this is not the case everywhere.


One of the reasons why my company spends a significant percentage of its revenue on clean water projects in rural Africa, such as pump/well and sanitation development, is because these people lack water availability, infrastructure and education, unlike the aforementioned, and bottled water isn’t an option for them. At the end of the day, a reported 783 million people do not have access to clean and safe water and 37 percent of those people live in Sub-Saharan Africa. What’s worse is this number will increase dramatically over the next 10 years."

 

ALL BEVERAGES NEED ACCOUNTABILITY

Data shows sports drinks, enhanced waters, and soda produce 50% more CO2 per serving than bottled water, while juice, beer and milk produce nearly 3x the CO2. Additionally, milk, coffee, beer, wine, and juice together account for 28% of a consumer’s total beverage consumption but represent 58% of climate change impact. For these beverages, it takes hundreds of liters of water just to produce 1 liter. In comparison, it only takes 1.32 liters of water and 0.24 mega joules of energy to produce one liter of finished bottled water. Looking at the bigger picture, bottled water only makes up 0.3% of the U.S. waste stream whereas carbonated beverages represent 4%.

rPET Waiakea

All Waiakea bottles are made of rPET, or post consumer recycled plastic (recycled PET). In comparison to regular or virgin plastic bottles, 100% RPET bottles:

  • Have 90% less carbon emissions
  • Use 90% less water
  • Use 85% less energy to manufacture
  • Have 90% less carbon emissions

 rPET may not be the final solution, but it is a powerful step in the right direction. The entire bottled water, beverage, and larger CPG industry should diligently be working towards renewable bio-polymers that provide a fully recyclable and naturally biodegradable end-of-life option. Waiakea has since licensed a new technology that will enable its bottles to degrade 97% faster than traditional bottles and hopes to release them in 2019. Learn more about it here.

 

Do Bans Work?

A study at the University of Vermont concluded that during the school’s “bottled water ban,” even more plastic bottles went into the waste stream, and to make matters worse, students were increasingly consuming less healthy, more sugary beverages known to increase the likelihood of diabetes and obesity. This was even after the installation of more water filling stations throughout the campus. If we are to try to ban and reduce plastic waste, do not ban one category of beverage exclusively, let alone the most healthy and eco-friendly one.

 

BOTTLED WATER HAS TO CHANGE

At the end of the day, bottled water undoubtedly still has to change. Historically, bottled water has been dominated by multinationals who prioritize their bottom line. This refusal to adapt to the times at hand, combined with a lack of transparency and insignificant greenwashing, has forced people to make their own conclusions. It is paramount that we hold ourselves to an even higher standard than the rest of the beverage world by attempting to implement the following:

  • 100% rPET or renewable bio-polymers that provide a fully recyclable and naturally biodegradable end-of-life option
  • Manufacturing using renewables
  • Low emission shipping
  • Sustainable sourcing
  • Regional carbon offsets

As one of the world's first beverages ever to be awarded a CarbonNeutral certification, we want to emphasize now more than ever the change that needs to happen in the CPG industry. We all need to start with taking accountability if we want the CPG industry to change for good. It's not an overnight process, but these small steps will definitely yield the result needed. We're hoping that you join us and demand change from the brands you support with your purchases. When all is said and done, sustainability undoubtedly has a price. Is it worth it? We think so. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.