Designing Solutions to Bottled Water

In the spirit of Blog Action Day 2010, let’s talk about water. We’re pretty lucky here in America; despite our access to clean drinking water in nearly every home, our own taps and public drinking fountains, we’re still ready and willing to pay for it. “So what,” you say? Before unscrewing the cap on another overpriced bottle of water, consider a few points:

  • According to TriplePundit, Americans now drink an average of 200 bottles of water per person every year here in the states.
  • Producing those water bottles accounts for more than 17 million barrels of oil annually.
  • Over 80% of the water bottles produced will never be recycled.
  • One-third of the bottled water we readily pay for comes from the same sources as tap water.

Bottled water is leaving an enormous impact on the environment, our natural resources – and our wallets. So what’s the solution? Designers the world over are taking multiple approaches to solving the problems that bottled water presents and are putting very viable solutions into action in some of the most practical ways you could imagine.

Public Water Fountains

The Bottled Water Alliance, in partnership with Culligan Water is aiming to reduce the ever-growing amount of waste produced by bottled water by bringing the fresh filtered water to the streets of Sydney, Australia. Apart from using filtered drinking water, the idea is essentially no different from your average drinking fountain. Fountain heads designed by Street Furniture Australia for the initiative were created in direct response to the obvious problems many individuals have with drinking from a fountain (poor hygiene, unreliability and vandalism), that causes many individuals to resort to bottled water. Thus far, the Bottled Water Alliance claims that the six fountains installed in Sydney to date have prevented the purchase of approximately 150,000 litres of bottled water or nearly 250,000 plastic bottles.

Bottle Refill Stations

In another similar effort to bring more sustainable alternative to clean drinking water, GlobalTap is encouraging the use of reusable bottles and has crafted their solution around this idea. Created by Chicago-based architect Daniel H. Whitman, GlobalTap is a project that aims to provide public access to clean drinking water through implementing a system of reusable bottles and refill stations in high-traffic metropolitan areas. In 2009 a pilot station, designed by IDEO, was installed in San Francisco, California. Basic manufacturing and assembly techniques allows each and every GlobalTap station to be built, installed and maintained with minimal cost and effort worldwide. Where the safety of water is of special concern – in developing countries, for example  – the GlobalTap system can accommodate for internal filters and new filtering technologies as well.

Biodegradable Bottles

Maybe we’ll never rid ourselves of the plastic bottle. If that’s the case, then shouldn’t we focus some effort on making those bottles more sustainable? North Carolina-based Primo Water is doing just that with implementing America’s first and only biodegradable, plant-based material in its bottles. The material, called Ingeo PLA, is a corn-based plastic produced by NatureWorks. Primo Water features the PLA bottles in their single serve bottles (16.9 fl oz), sold in 18-count packs nationally.

Paper Cartons

A few companies have scrapped the idea of the bottle altogether in favor of an arguably greener, more sustainable alternative: paper cartons. In 2009, start-up company Boxed Water is Better, began distributing purified water in milk cartons beginning with the idea that paper packaging is greener than the standard-issue plastic bottles used today. In addition to each carton being readily recyclable, nearly 80% of each cartons’ composition derives from green-certified trees.

O.N.E. World Enterprises, which produces O.N.E. Water, also has its own version of a plastic bottle alternative. Made primarily of paper, the material for each BPA-free Tetra Pak comes from responsibly sourced, well-managed forests and can be recycled.

The next time you’re thirsty and won’t settle for tap water, consider one of these viable alternatives. It might have a larger impact that you think.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Five Sustainable Packaging Trends

The last few years have seen increasing use of sustainable packaging by a myriad of North American companies like Amazon, Coca-Cola, Sprint, Dell and Kraft Foods. Utilizing packaging that implements growing amounts of recycled materials, compostable/biodegradable packaging, reusable packaging, source reduced packaging and resource optimized packaging has been shown to cut costs while still contributing to the design quality and familiarity of brands that consumers already know and love. Below are examples from companies currently using sustainable packaging.

RECYCLED: Quiznos Food and Drink Packaging

Quiznos has established a new goal of keeping more than six million pounds of packaging materials out of landfills and to meet that objective, Quiznos now offers 100 percent compostable paper cups, biodegradable pulp salad bowls, plastic cup lids implementing 30 percent post-consumer recycled bottles and napkins made from 90 percent post-consumer, 100 percent recycled material fibers.

Designed with an obvious emphasis on the brand in mind this new packaging will save a vast amount of resources in production. Quiznos estimates that the napkins alone will save nearly half a million trees and over 15 million gallons of water. In addition, the salad bowls will save nearly one million pounds of plastic waste from ending up in landfills.

COMPOSTABLE: Frito-Lay Sun Chips Bag

In the summer of 2009, Frito-Lay, maker of the SunChips line of snacks introduced bags utilizing a single layer of a plant-based polyactic acid (PLA, aka biodegradable material). The company later promised a fully compostable bag by Earth Day the next year. The following spring, Frito-Lay delivered on that promise and launched a bag made completely of PLAs. Certified compostable by Woods End and biodegradable by the Biodegradable Products Institute, this new bag will decompose in about 100 days under the right conditions.

UPDATE Oct 7 2010: 18 months after it’s launch, Frito-Lay is “bagging” the fully compostable packaging from five out of six SunChips varieties. The noisy packaging, due to a rigid molecular structure, has spawned a lot of criticism of the new packaging, spawning the Sorry But I Can’t Hear You Over This SunChips Bag facebook group and according to some reports, more than a 10% decline in sales over the past 52 weeks.

REUSABLE: Happy Baby Organic Puffs Container

Instead of encouraging consumers to reuse their products’ packaging, Happy Baby chose to step up early in their products’ life cycle by reclaiming discontinued packaging and reusing the containers to launch a new line of Happy Baby Puffs.  Originating from Method, a company using the same packaging format for wipes, had hundreds of thousands of the containers available for purchase, along with the mold to create them as well. Already made with 25 percent post-consumer recycled content, Happy Baby was able to purchase the containers for a fraction of what it would ultimately cost to produce new ones.

SOURCE REDUCED: Sprint Accessory Packaging

Sprint‘s new line of accessory packaging is is not only smaller in size but also implements a greater amount of post-consumer waste content. The new packaging is up to 40 percent smaller in size, contains elements made from FSC-certified paperboard and 40 percent industrial waste content. PVC elements have been replaced with PET, utilizing 30 percent recycled content. Printing is done using soy and vegetable-based inks instead of the petroleum alternative. Sprint estimates that this new line of packaging will save nearly 650 tons of waste annually and reduce their packaging costs by 35 percent, saving the company over $2 million annually.

RESOURCE OPTIMIZED: Maxwell House Coffee Can

In recent years, Kraft Foods has shed over 100 million pounds in packaging their products by using sustainable alternatives. One contributor to this massive weight loss effort can be found in the Maxwell House brand of coffees, which now use composite paperboard cans in place of the steel alternative. Additionally, paperboard cans require less energy to produce and result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their metal counterparts. The new cans still use a recyclable steel bottom but weighs 30 percent less, use 50 percent recycled content and shed nearly 9 million pounds in material for the company.


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