LOS ANGELES, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Nestle Waters North America is selling a new bottled water that it says is better for the environment, and starting a recycling program with Whole Foods Market and Waste Management.
The effort and others from rivals come amid growing criticism that popular bottled water products — often shipped long distances and packaged in bottles made with plastic — are harming the environment and clogging landfills.
Nestle’s new re-source brand water, available only at Whole Foods, comes from natural springs in the United States and is packaged in bottles made from 25 percent recycled plastic.
Over time, Nestle Waters North America plans to increase the amount of recycled plastic in its re-source bottles, said Andrius Dapkus, director of innovations and renovations at Nestle Waters North America.
The new campaign aims to boost plastic recycling, he said, adding, “I’ve got the added benefit of creating some loyalty, hopefully, for the product, and creating this community of like-minded individuals who are focused on the war on waste.”
Whole Foods grocery stores often cater to upscale shoppers who are interested in recycling and other “green” efforts.
Other Nestle waters, including Poland Spring, Deer Park and Arrowhead, do not have much distribution through Whole Foods, and as long as the company does not lose business to rivals, Dapkus said, he does not mind if re-source siphons away revenue from the other brands.
RACE FOR THE GREENEST BOTTLE
Most beverage companies, including giants Coca-Cola Co and PepsiCo Inc, are looking for ways to use less virgin plastic, said Dennis Sabourin, executive director of the National Association for PET Container Resources.
“They’re not doing it for economic reasons,” he said.
“It’s not cheaper. In many cases it’s more expensive” to use recycled plastic, said Sabourin, adding that supporting recycling is seen as an important part of corporate sustainability efforts.
France’s Danone, seller of Evian and Volvic water, is adding recycled plastic to some bottles.
Elsewhere, Canadian bottled water company Naya introduced a new container composed of 50 percent recycled plastic and Mountain Valley — which sells water in green colored bottles — said it will soon boost the amount of recycled plastic in its bottles to half.
Critics of the bottled water industry want consumers to drink more tap water — saying that simple act can help them save money and the environment.
More than 2.3 billion pounds of plastic bottles were recycled in the United States in 2007, according to the American Chemistry Council and the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.
While the tonnage of recycled plastic bottles has risen, the percentage that are recycled has hovered around 24 percent for the last several years, those groups said.
As part of the new Nestle initiative, select Whole Foods stores are being equipped with “reverse-vending” machines supplied by Waste Management subsidiary GreenOps. The machines accept used plastic, glass or aluminum containers for recycling and let users track their individual recycling, claim container deposits and receive coupons.
There are currently two dozen such machines in California and Arizona at stores owned by Whole Foods, which has the exclusive contract to sell re-source water until October 2010.
Sports arenas, universities, convention centers and other venues that do not compete with Whole Foods stores also could sell the re-source water and house the recycling machines during the exclusivity period, Dapkus said.
For every container recycled as part of the program at Whole Foods, Nestle Waters North America will donate 5 cents to Keep America Beautiful, a decades-old nonprofit known for its anti-litter campaigns. The donation program is planned to launch this summer and run through Earth Day 2010. Proceeds will help support local recycling programs across the country, Nestle Waters said. (Additional reporting by Martinne Geller in New York. Editing by Robert MacMillan)