By Chris Hogan
Bottled water is about to mark an historic milestone. According to Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), in 2015, consumption of bottled water increased by 7.9 percent and bottled water sales were up an impressive 8.9 percent. While that’s great news, more telling is the fact that BMC projects that if these trends continue—and they are expected to do just that—bottled water will overtake soft drinks as America’s largest beverage category by volume by 2017, if not by the end of 2016.
In today’s on-the-go society, most of what we drink comes in a package. A vast majority of consumers see water as a smart beverage choice and consider bottled water to be healthier than soft drinks. According to a 2015 Harris Poll survey conducted for the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), 96 percent of Americans believe that we should be drinking more water. The poll also found that 95 percent of Americans believe that bottled water is a healthier beverage choice than soft drinks and 92 percent say bottled water should be available wherever other beverages are sold. BMC also sees demand for bottled water remaining strong in the years ahead. American consumers are speaking with their wallets when it comes to choosing packaged beverages and the clear winner is bottled water.
Statistics tell the story
In 2005, most Americans were drinking 25.4 gallons (96.1 liters) of bottled water. By 2015, that figure had jumped to 36.5 gallons (138.1 liters), an increase of 11 gallons (41.6 liters). Compare that to the per capita consumption of soft drinks, which dropped by 12.5 gallons (47.3 liters). Bottled water sales increased by 8.9 percent in 2015 and now total $14.2 billion (wholesale). Total US bottled water consumption grew by 7.9 percent to 11.7 billion gallons (44.2 billion liters), up from 10.87 billion gallons (41.1 billion liters) in 2014. Per capita consumption was up 7.1 percent, with every person in America drinking an average of 36.5 gallons (47.3 liters) of bottled water last year.
Reflecting a clear trend of consumers increasingly choosing healthy, convenient, zero-calorie bottled water, BMC also reported that by 2015, bottled water had achieved a new volume record: almost three billion gallons (11.3 billion liters) higher than in 2007. Soft drinks, on the other hand, underwent their 11th consecutive year of volume reductions in 2015.
Of course, the bottled water industry is happy from a business perspective, since increasing sales and record consumption is certainly good news. Of equal importance, however, is the fact that this is actually a consumer-driven trend. Make no mistake, while we continue to educate people about other important issues (such as the industry’s long history of environmental stewardship, the need for increased recycling and continuing to reduce the environmental footprint), choosing water for healthy hydration is already the reflexive choice for a growing number of Americans.
Always there when you need it
In addition to its healthy hydration benefits, bottled water has also played a vital role when public water supplies were compromised in the aftermath of a natural disaster or other type of emergency. The lead contamination of Flint, MI’s tap water (and concerns about public water system problems in other US cities) underscored the importance of having access to safe, drinkable water. The bottled water industry has long supported strong, reliable, public water systems. But, when clean tap water is unavailable, the bottled water industry has been (and will continue to be) there to ensure that people have access to safe, quality water. This industry has always been at the forefront of relief efforts during emergencies, natural disasters and other catastrophic events. Throughout the years, bottled water companies have immediately responded to the need for clean water after disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires and flooding.
Bottled water’s versatility also makes it suitable for consumption at any time of day and in just about any setting or situation. It doesn’t need to be kept ice cold (like soft drinks or juice) or warm (like conventional coffee or tea). And various packaging types, ranging from three- and five-gallon bottles used in homes and offices to single-serve containers sold at retail locations, facilitate a variety of uses.
A healthy choice
According to an important new study funded by the Drinking Water Research Foundation (DWRF) and published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients, losing weight and improving risk factors for chronic diseases may be as easy as drinking a glass of water instead of a soft drink or other sweetened beverage. Using national nutrition surveillance data, the study’s findings show that swapping water for eight ounces of sweetened beverage, every day, could save people roughly 100 calories, which is between 15 and 30 percent of adults’ total caloric intake. In fact, study results revealed that 18 percent of calories in adults’ diets comes from beverages. Current public health recommendations limit beverage calories to less than 15 percent of total daily calories. So, when it comes to making healthy bottled beverage choices, water indeed is the way to go. And compared to other packaged beverages, bottled water containers have the lowest water and energy use of all beverages sold.
Tackling industry issues
The bottled water industry remains focused on issues related to Bisphenol-A (BPA), which is a chemical building block used primarily to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. Many bottled water companies use polycarbonate plastic for their three- and five-gallon water cooler bottles. BPA is not a chemical component of PET plastic, commonly used for small, portable 16.9 (half-liter) and 24-ounce bottled water containers. Regulatory agencies in several countries and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have ruled favorably on the safety of BPA. The consensus among these international regulatory agencies is that BPA is safe.
On the federal level, only one piece of legislation has been introduced that directly impacts the industry as it relates to the use of BPA. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill in May 2015 that would require cans and other food containers like bottled water packaging made with BPA to bear a warning label. The bill would mandate a safety review of BPA in food. Senator Feinstein’s BPA in Food Packaging Right to Know Act has not seen any congressional attention and has only two co-sponsors: Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Angus King (I-ME). It is not expected that this bill will see any congressional action before the end of 2016. Only a few states have even introduced legislation that could possibly impact the industry as it relates to BPA. With most states focused on fiscal issues in 2016, there may be a new effort to address BPA usage during 2017 state legislative sessions. And of those that have introduced legislation, none have advanced to a point where passage might be possible.
While groundwater use, restrictions and taxes remain high priorities for potential legislative action, most discussions surrounding these topics have had more serious consideration at the local level. Efforts to prevent bottled water plants from opening, sales tax proposals and bans on the use and sale of single-serve plastic water bottles have been a topic for many local adversary groups who have leveraged media and misinformation to push their agenda. IBWA is working hard to defeat these efforts. As all states take a closer look at groundwater management, industries that are water users are likely to be impacted—this is especially true for bottled water. Territorial issues will play a significant role as states that are forced to deal with issues like drought and water scarcity are likely to impose restrictions on use of municipally sourced water. This will likely be evident in many southern states. Within certain states where water is considered a limited resource, conflict may arise between cities and rural areas.
IBWA continues to oppose a National Park Service (NPS) policy that allows individual parks to ban the sale of bottled water, but not other less-healthy drinks also packaged in plastic: soft drinks, sports drinks, juice drinks and other sugary packaged beverages. The association’s position is that this policy denies park visitors the simple option of buying the healthiest packaged drink on the shelf, while at the same time making readily available a broad selection of unhealthy drinks packaged in heavier plastic bottles that use more water to manufacture. The US House of Representatives passed the 2017 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill (HR 5538), which contains a provision that prevents the NPS from using federal money to implement a policy that allows individual national parks to ban the sale of bottled water. Similarly, the US Senate Appropriations Committee recognized the need to end this deeply flawed policy in the report accompanying the 2017 Interior Appropriations Bill approved by the committee.
IBWA continues to counter incorrect claims that the bottled water industry is a major contributor to drought or that it negatively impacts water supplies in general. Bottled water companies use a very small amount of water when measured against almost any other industry and are dedicated to responsibly protecting and preserving our vital water resources while helping people live healthier lives. In fact, when it comes to overall water use, the bottled water industry is actually a small and efficient water user. Bottled water uses only 0.01 percent of all water used in the US annually. Sustainable water sources are the single most important aspect of our business. Water resource management, therefore, is a priority for the bottled water industry.
Bottled water’s environmental footprint is actually the lowest of any packaged beverage, according to a life-cycle assessment conducted by Quantis in 2010. Bottled water has the smallest water- and energy-use footprint of any packaged beverage. The results of a bench-mark study show that the amount of water and energy used to produce bottled water products in North America is less than all other types of packaged beverages. On average, only 1.32 liters (0.3 gallons) 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.
Educating and informing consumers
IBWA continues to educate consumers about how the bottled water industry is utilizing a variety of measures to continue reducing its environmental impact. All bottled water containers are 100-percent recyclable and many bottled water companies are already using recycled plastic in their bottles. Some are already producing 100-percent recycled PET plastic bottled water containers.
The bottled water industry has worked hard on a number of fronts with recycling advocates, communities and beverage and food partners to increase recycling rates. In fact, between 2000 and 2014, the average weight of a 16.9-ounce (half-liter) PET plastic bottle declined 51 percent. This resulted in a savings of 6.2 billion pounds (2.8 billion kilograms) of PET resin since 2000. At 37 percent, the recycling rate for single-serve PET plastic bottled water containers has more than doubled in the past 10 years and PET plastic bottled water containers are the most frequently recycled PET beverage container in curbside recycling programs. PET plastic bottled water containers, measured in tons of landfill space, made up just 3.3 percent of all beverage containers that ended up in landfills. Waste percentage numbers were much higher for glass (66.7 percent), aluminum (7.9 percent) and plastic soda bottles (13.3 percent).
Recycling remains an important focus for the bottled water industry. IBWA recently joined The Recycling Partnership, an innovative organization that utilizes public-private partnerships to improve recycling at the local level and make recycling easier for Americans. The Recycling Partnership supports community recycling programs in their efforts to be more accessible and efficient and engages the full recycling supply chain, from local government to industry end markets, haulers, material recovery facilities and converters.
In addition, IBWA continues to be a proud and active supporter of Drink Up, which encourages Americans to drink more water more often, whether from the tap, a filter or in a bottle. The effort has been very successful. IBWA has long promoted the many benefits of drinking water and the Drink Up partnership is an important and healthful promotional effort that can benefit all Americans.
Bottled water in the US is comprehensively regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a packaged food product and by federal law. Those regulations governing the safety and quality of bottled water are as stringent as US EPA standards that govern tap water. And, in some very important cases, such as lead issues, bottled water regulations are substantially more stringent.The bottled water industry has a great story tell. IBWA continues to work hard to create a favorable business and public-affairs climate for the bottled water industry and to protect and advance the interests of all member companies.
About the author
Chris Hogan is Vice President of Communications for the International Bottled Water Association. He holds an MBA and Master of International Management from the University of Maryland University College and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Northeastern University. Hogan also holds the IOM association and nonprofit executive certification.
About the organization
The International Bottled Water Association (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. The association 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. Be sure to follow IBWA on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube and visit our websites, www.BottledWater.org and www.BottledWaterMatters.com.