Bottled water backlash? |

Bottled water backlash?

John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado
A discarded Aspen Pure water bottle sits next to a large pile of co-mingled plastics in the recycling center at the Pitkin County landfill. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” An Aspen-based bottled water com­pany reported last week that it has not seen a drop in sales as the result of controversy over the recycling of those little plastic bottles that are increasingly showing up in landfills across the nation.

“We have not felt any impact from it,” said Mark Friedland of Aspen Pure,”which is not to say there may not be an eventual backlash. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

But regardless of the controversy, Friedland said his company has been pro­moting recycling and plans to do more.

And a spokesman for a national bever­age trade association said his organization also is getting set for a new public relations push to increase consumer awareness of the need to dispose of water bottles prop­erly.

There is an Aspen connection for two bottled water companies, although both get their water from distant locales and one has recently moved its operations to California.

Still, Fiji Water and Aspen Pure Water both have listed towns in the Roaring Fork Valley as their home bases ” Aspen for Aspen Pure, which locals Jerry Bovino and Friedland own; and Basalt for Fiji, owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who split their time between Aspen and California but originally gave Fiji’s business address as Basalt.

Aspen Pure comes from an aquifer beneath the San Luis Valley to the east and south of Aspen, while Fiji Water comes from artesian wells in the Fiji Islands.

Efforts to inquire at Fiji Water about the effects of the recycling controversy, howev­er, proved fruitless.

“We don’t like talking to the media, whether it’s positive, negative or indiffer­ent,” said a woman who answered the phone at Fiji Water in California. A request to talk with a public relations or media liai­son yielded no results.

Bottled water is the single-largest growth sector among all beverages, according to national news reports, and that includes alcohol, juices and soft drinks. An online story MSNBC published last spring reported that per-capita consumption has more than doubled over the last decade, from 10.5 gal­lons in 1993 to 27.6 in 2006, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp. (BMC).

And the growth has been even more impressive in terms of water-bottle sales: from $3.3 billion in 1997 to $15 billion in 2002, according to reports. By 2003, according to statistics the BMC provided, bottled water had become “the second largest commercial bever­age category by volume in the United States.”

Add to that the fact that only about 12 percent of “custom” plastic bottles, a catego­ry dominated by water, were recycled in 2003, according to industry consultant R.W. Beck Inc. That’s 40 million bottles a day that went into the trash or became litter, one report said, adding that in contrast, the recycling rate for plastic soft drink bottles reportedly is around 30 percent.

In California alone, according to a 2003 report, more than 1 billion plastic water bot­tles are winding up in the trash each year.

“The sight of a water bottle in someone’s hand has become as common as a cell phone,” said Darryl Young, director of the California Department of Conservation.”In California, one is usually in the right, and the other is in the left. What people don’t realize is that these water bottles are recy­clable and have detrimental environmental impacts if thrown in the trash.”

As the controversial issue grows, there have been indications that a rising tide of news stories about the water bottles may have had an effect on national sales of bot­tled water.

But according to Friedland and Joe Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, no such evidence has appeared yet.

“I have no evidence to suggest it has caused any decrease in sales,” Doss said.”I think time will tell, but my sense of it is, it won’t [cause sales to drop off].”

As proof, he cited BMC figures that indi­cate sales have been on the rise by about 9 or 10 percent a year since 2005, and that sales reported so far for 2007 show no sign of slacking.

But for Doss, the key to the issue is not that so many plastic water bottles are sell­ing, but that not enough are being recycled. He said that’s despite that they are made of polyethylene terephthalate plastic and rated No. 1, which he termed the most recyclable type of plastic bottle, and despite the efforts of the industry to promote recycling and to “reduce our environmental footprint.”

He said the industry as a whole has been moving toward thinner-gauge plastic in its bottles, which makes them lighter and which uses less of the oil-based ingredients to make the bottles, and reduced the pollu­tants emitted in the process.

As for the relatively new idea of switching to corn-based plastic, such as the polylactide bot­tles which NatureWorks LLC manufactures in Blair, Neb., Doss said, the industry is waiting to see if the technology proves to be workable.

And, he said, the IBWA is now working on a new public-relations campaign to increase consumer awareness of the recycla­ble nature of plastic water bottles and the potential for environmental degradation if the bottles are now disposed of properly.

“We are committed to increasing recy­cling rates in the United States,” he declared.”We are a strong proponent of curbside recycling.”

He also noted that bottle water packaging represents “only one-third of 1 percent of the total waste stream in the U.S.,” which he said points to a need for “a comprehensive waste management policy” and legislation in Congress to beef up the nation’s recycling effort.