A New York Times article released over the weekend, by David Yaffe-Bellany, raises some serious practical questions about water packaging we feel need more consideration.
Would you drink water out of a can? Or would you balk because you couldn’t see its clarity? Would you buy water in a clear glass container so you could see the water inside, even though it would cost more for heavy glass that was inert? Or would you buy it in clear, single-use, light, inexpensive plastic so you could see it even though you knew it was less likely to be recycled and more likely to poison the environment? This is the great dilemma: Convenience vs. Environmental Damage. So far, consumers are voting for convenience and price over safety.
But now Pepsi’s betting that in order to save the environment, you will give up your demand to see if the water you buy is clear. They are betting that you will trust them to produce it clean and pure, and you will buy it from them in an aluminum can – even though you can’t see it until after you buy it. It will still be light, convenient, and inexpensive! You just can’t see it. They will be test marketing the concept next year in their purified still water brand, Aquafina.
This is an interesting gamble because aluminum is lightweight like plastic and apparently more inert. And according to the article, is more likely to be recycled due to its redemption value. In fact, worldwide only 9% of all the plastic ever made has been recycled while well over 50% of aluminum bought by consumers is reused. Pepsi says these changes should eliminate more than 8,000 metric tons of “virgin” plastic annually and 11,000 metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions.
What’s interesting about the proposition is that, all things being equal, if you trust the producer, you could save the environment from a major source of plastic pollution. Even so, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp., plastic bottled water was up more than 5% in 2018. Consumers still want convenience at the expense of the environment. As of 2016, for the first time, American consumption of bottled water exceeded all other packaged soda combined. There is still a huge and growing demand for bottled water sometimes due to the lack of other drinkable water.
Is Aluminum the Answer?
Single-use plastic water packaging is a growing challenge that needs to be addressed. According to Sherrie Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the Can Manufacturers Institute,
“In a world that is increasingly concerned about scarce resources, aluminum cans have the ability to be recycled over and over, forever, without losing quality.”
But is aluminum the answer? According to the EPA, nearly half of the aluminum consumed by Americans still winds up in landfill. This and the growth of the market mean more mining. This means more open-pit and strip bauxite mines (the ore from which aluminum is made), with more potential for air, water, and soil pollution. So aluminum is still not a panacea. But it may be an improvement. Never mind that giving up packaged water entirely might be the best thing for the environment.
A Better Way
We’re putting our money on more education, reusable containers, home tap water purifiers, reusable bottle refilling stations, outlawing single-use plastics, and significantly increasing the redemption value of glass and metals. How does your water get to you?
Who We Are
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.
Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.
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