Goodbye, water bottle; hello, pouch?

March 09, 2012

Colleges across the country made headlines this week, not due to March Madness, but because more than 90 schools, including Harvard University, are banning or restricting the use of plastic water bottles.

Students are encouraged to use stainless-steel bottles, and various hydration stations where free water is available.

In response, the International Bottled Water Association released a statement proclaiming the water bottle ban "fails students."

"Bottled water is most often an alternative to other packaged drinks, which are often less healthy, and is not necessarily an alternative to tap water," stated Chris Hogan, IBWA vp of communications. "The EPA has calculated that plastic bottled water containers make up just 0.03% of the U.S. waste stream. So, getting rid of bottled water on campus will not make a significant improvement to waste issues."

As colleges and the bottled water industry continue to state their respective cases, R. Charles Murray, CEO of PPi Technologies Group, sees nothing but opportunity for delivering hydration through a pouch.   

"The banning of the bottle as a package to deliver hydration water, which is freely available from many water outlets at little cost, is to my mind the 21st century solution and in time will save lots of money and energy and reduce the recycle bottle handling process," he told PlasticsToday. "To fill the gap for an economic portable hydration water package, it takes a lot to beat the pouch."

Pouches have gained traction recently with more packaged food makers switching from bottles and cans to pouches. John Kalkowski, editorial director of our sister publication Packaging Digest, recently told the Chicago Tribune that pouches are becoming more prevalent because technology has improved, doubling average shelf life from one year to two.

PPi Technologies is the largest stand-up pouch machinery company in the U.S., with about 35% of the market, according to Murray.

All pouches are made with various laminations based on compatibility and shelf life. Water has a far more stringent specification because the materials must be organoleptic as well; meaning no off odors present, he said. The structure used is PET/AL/PE.

Murray said while the latest water bottles on the market are lighter than before, he believes they are still hard to handle, stack, and open. The pouch stands up just like a bottle, but once it empties, the area it occupies is much less than a bottle, he said. In addition, the pouch uses a fraction of PET material compared to standard PET bottles.

"The pouch for sure reduces our need for millions of pounds of PET material," he said. "The bottle uses more energy to get made and delivered for filling. The pouch, in comparison, uses about two-thirds less and has the lowest carbon footprint of any package."

Murray said the pouches do not require huge recycling efforts, and in Florida and Germany, the empty pouches are actually used in garbage incinerators for recovery of energy.

PET bottled water industry growing

Despite bans and public outcry on certain college campuses, bottled water continues to experience growth.  

PET bottled water has had solid growth in each of the last two years, according to Gary Hemphill, senior vp of the Beverage Marketing Corp., a New York consulting firm.  

In 2011, more than 9 billion gallons of bottled water were sold in the U.S. and volume growth exceeded 5%. Hemphill said aggressive pricing has contributed to the strong performance of the category.

"Bottled water is the ultimate health beverage and this positioning has helped to propel much of the category's growth," he said.

He said bottled water companies are seeking to make their products more environmentally friendly, but without adding significant additional cost. While much has been done with lightweighting of both the bottle itself and the closure, more efforts are underway and the firm sees bioplastics as one area companies are putting energy behind, he said.

Hemphill said he didn't have much information on pouches for the beverage sector.

"I can only say intuitively that while there is a market for pouches it tends to be niche and still tends to be dominated by beverages targeted to kids," he said.

Certain pouches are commonly marketed toward children, such as the popular Capri Sun line of juice drink blends, and other fruit juice drinks. However, Murray said there are endless opportunities for pouches, and he personally sees the pouch as being a green and convenient method to deliver hydration based on different needs.

"So, just like the glass bottle disappeared over 10 years, we do expect that over time, as people understand that the PET bottle is a huge cost factor in their lives, they will move away and use easy access hydration water systems," he said. "However, for camping, trips in the car, places where water quality is questionable or suspect, the pouch will become the package of choice."

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