By Jill Culora
Bottled water reaffirmed its position as America’s favorite drink, outselling carbonated soft drinks (by volume) for the second year in a row in 2017. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), sales of bottled water grew by 8.8 percent in 2017, reaching $18.5 billion (wholesale) and consumption grew by seven percent to 13.7 billion gallons (51.8 billion liters). In addition, per capita consumption was up 6.2 percent in 2017, with nearly every person in America drinking an average of 42 gallons (158 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 21.1 percent in 2017. Carbonated soft drinks hold the second position, with 19.6 percent, reflecting a clear trend of consumers increasingly choosing healthy, convenient, zero-calorie bottled water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
As anticipated, the bottled water industry’s number-one position was met with backlash from its adversaries. Indeed, much of the traditional and social media coverage in 2018 has focused on the environmental impact of the bottled water industry. The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) has 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. IBWA actively promotes the facts about bottle water’s very small environmental footprint, which includes points such as:
- Bottled water has the lowest water and energy use of all packaged beverages.
- Bottled water containers are 100-percent recyclable, even the caps.
- Bottled water consumers are the best recyclers in curbside recycling programs, at a rate of 53.9 percent.
- The bottled water industry is working with partners such as Keep America Beautiful and The Recycle Partnership to educate consumers about the importance of recycling.
- 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.
IBWA continues to be at the forefront in utilizing new and innovative digital communications tools and, in 2018, it introduced a podcast series called H2O In The Know, available on iTunes and Soundcloud. The podcast archive includes informative interviews highlighting important industry issues, including recycling, regulation, healthy hydration and water resource management, and entertaining topics, such as what all goes into judging an international water tasting. IBWA also expanded its social media efforts by partnering with like-minded organizations for a Put It In The Bin recycling campaign. This campaign harnesses the power of social media to help educate consumers about the value of recycling.
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 and using this water efficiently are two of the most important aspects of the bottled water business. IBWA is the leader for the bottled water industry on these issues and it encourages its members to practice stewardship with respect to water resource management. To assist its members, the IBWA Environmental Sustainability Committee has developed the IBWA Water Stewardship Best Practices Guide. The guide, which is based on the Alliance for Water Stewardship international standard for water stewardship, provides a reference for current or prospective members to use with existing facilities and when developing new bottling facilities. A checklist to be used along with the guide is currently under development.
In another action aimed at helping our members better manage their water use, IBWA released its Water Risk and Best Practices Study. The best practices framework is presented in five topic categories:
- Equipment check/process controls
- Meter use/water mapping
- Water recycling/reuse
- 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 were divided into three approach categories: initial, advanced and leading. IBWA 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 continues to provide IBWA members with advocacy materials based on facts. Members use these materials to combat local efforts, respond to any anti-bottled water industry media stories, step up aggressive social media efforts, reach out to respected third-party organizations to seek their support and work with state and regional bottled water and business associations on this issue.
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. Early in 2018, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) released a draft study, as part of an effort called the Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on BPA Toxicity (CLARITY-BPA), reinforcing the safety of BPA. The NTP, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) developed this consortium-based research program to link more effectively a variety of hypothesis-based research investigations and guideline-compliant safety testing with BPA. In a statement, Stephen Ostroff, MD, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine at the FDA, said of the report: “Although a comprehensive review of this report, along with future data from other CLARITY-BPA research, will be conducted as part of our continued assessment of BPA safety, our initial review supports our determination that currently authorized uses of BPA continue to be safe for consumers. The report also builds upon the already extensive data collected in the FDA’s 2014 assessment of the safety of BPA.”
On April 26, the FDA scientists who conducted the study presented their findings to an expert panel organized by the NTP. Following the presentations, panelists had the opportunity to ask clarifying questions. The peer-review panel indicated that the final report would be released by August. It is expected that the study will also be published in the scientific literature, perhaps by the end of the year. California’s Center for Environmental Health (CEH) filed a lawsuit in 2017 against a bottled water company alleging that it violated Proposition 65 by failing to warn consumers that they may be exposed to BPA through the consumption of water bottled in three- and five-gallon polycarbonate plastic containers.
This litigation is particularly important for those companies that do business in California. But it has a greater significance for the entire US bottled water industry since other states may look to California as a model for action when considering the BPA issue. The parties to the California lawsuit entered into a settlement agreement on June 13. Under the agreement, the bottled water company agreed to take the following actions:
Stamping covered products. Each newly manufactured polycarbonate bottle used to deliver or sell drinking water in California is stamped with the year of the bottle’s manufacture.
Covered products removal. Beginning on January 1, 2023, the company will remove from the active inventory of bottles, through a periodic review occurring at least once every three months, each bottle that is stamped with a manufacture date that is five or more years in the past. Any bottles not bearing a manufacture date will be removed from the active inventory of bottles only based on visible signs of wear.
Removing additional covered products from inventory. The company has agreed to remove older bottles that have been in use for the longest period and have visible signs of wear.
Timeframe. The company must increase the number of removed bottles over the baseline figure by one percent in the first year (2018), adding a percent each year until 2022.
As a critical deadline looms, IBWA has stepped up its efforts to assist members in complying with FDA’s new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). By September 17, 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 two years and will hold two additional workshops in 2018. These workshops provide both member and non-member attendees an opportunity to become a PCQI for their facility(ies), in compliance with the new 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 monitor and contact media outlets regarding coverage of research claiming to have found microplastics in bottled water. The organization is reaching out to editors and producers of stories who do not include IBWA’s statement and is requesting that stories be updated or revised to include the industry’s point of view on this very serious topic. The statement points out that the 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, the study’s findings do nothing more than unnecessarily scare consumers.
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 our 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 and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in political science from Dalhousie University.
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 the 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. IBWA is also a supporter of the Drink Up initiative, which encourages Americans to drink more water more often—whether from the tap, a filter or in a bottle. Choosing water is always the healthy choice.