27 June 2008 00:52 [Source: ICIS news]
By Landon Feller
HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Ideological barriers appear to be keeping advocacy groups and US bottled water producers from cooperating on issues of conservation and resource management, key players said on Thursday.
Water bottles are a main end market for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) producers, but growth in the sector faces controversy as activists and municipalities mount opposition to bottled water.
The issue surfaced on Monday the US Conference of Mayors (USCM) adopted a resolution calling on cities to promote the use of municipal water and to phase out the use of bottled water by city governments.
The resolution said that plastic water bottles are one of the fastest growing sources of municipal waste, and that production of plastic bottles for water requires the energy equivalent of more than 17m bbl/year of oil.
The resolution would not restrict city residents from buying bottled water.
However, activist groups and municipalities could benefit from working with bottlers instead of against them, said Breck Speed, CEO of Mountain Valley Spring Company.
Instead of teaming with the beverage industry to promote sustainable use resources, Speed said, anti-bottled water advocates have ignored the potential for strong industry support of their efforts. “It would be much easier to reach common goals if politicians, environmentalists and industry all work together,” he said.
“We would be willing to work with bottled water companies if they would agree to three basic criteria,” said Corporate Accountability International spokesman Nick Guroff.
The consumer advocate, through its Think Outside The Bottle campaign, has called upon the bottled water industry to disclose the source and sites of its water use, disclose its water quality by the same standards used in public water systems, and allow communities to choose and control how local resources are managed.
But industry participants say that groups like Corporate Accountability International and the USCM offer criticism and demands without accounting for the beverage industry’s history of environmental stewardship.
The American Beverage Association (
Guroff said the
These efforts have so affected consumer perceptions that one in five people now drink only PET-bottled water, Guroff said.
“We have never marketed bottled water against tap water,” said Speed.
Nonetheless, product quality remains another point of contention. “If we measure tap water by the same methods that they want to measure bottled water, it’s not going to look good,” Speed said.
The beverage industry maintains that the standards to which bottled water is held are more stringent than for tap water, a statement that the opposition says is not backed with adequate evidence.
Speed suggested that options like mandatory curb-side recycling or a national bottle bill, though debated, would do more to increase plastic reclamation and promote tap water use and than resolutions urging cities to phase-out bottled water.
Not only do US municipalities account for a small portion of bottled water sales, Speed said, but the growth of bottled water over in recent years has come at the expense of carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices, not tap water.
“The link they are trying to draw between bottle and tap water is tenuous at best. The truth is we are natural allies on a variety of issues,” Speed said.
Significant challenges face public water works and should be prioritised, Speed said, pointing to the 20-25% of municipal water lost to leaks in crumbling infrastructure.
He also cited the large amount of reclaimed US PET used by
Guroff agreed that more must be done to shore up the water infrastructure, noting a $22bn/year (€14bn/year) shortfall between what US cities have and what they need to maintain and improve public water works.
But Guroff added that a perceived disconnect between the industry’s claims and its actions remains an obstacle to partnership.
“It would seem that we are natural allies at the outset,” said Guroff, “and when [the industry’s] rhetoric aligns more closely with their actions, we will have an easier time working together.”
In any case, say PET producers, opposition to water packaged in plastic is not beneficial to a sector that is seeing declining growth forecasts due in part to market saturation and lightweighting of bottles.
($1 = €0.64)
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