(Reuters) - French food and drinks multinational Danone is the latest company shaking up the world’s $19 billion bottled water industry by switching some of its plastic bottles, which pollute oceans, to aluminium cans.
Below are details of how aluminium and other materials rate in terms of sustainability, plus plans by the bottled water sector to substitute the lightweight metal for plastic.
Globally, only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling and only 5% of the material value is retained for later use, according to a report here by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles used in the water industry have a higher collection rate at 55%, but much of that material does not return as bottles - 80% of recycled PET bottles are turned into items such as carpets and clothing, eventually ending up in landfills.
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Aluminium cans have a higher global recycling rate at 69%, according to Resource Recycling Systems, while aluminium cans in the United States contain 68% recycled content compared to 3% for plastic bottles, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Aluminium, however, is very energy-intensive to produce and has a higher carbon footprint, responsible for 11.09 tonnes of CO2 emissions per ton of cans while plastic bottles account for only 2.2 tonnes of greenhouse gases, according to a 2016 study by the EPA.
The carbon footprint drops sharply for recycled cans, but based on the overall mix in the market, cans have about double the carbon footprint of plastic bottles, according to UK-based non-profit consultancy the Carbon Trust.
Coke, which has pledged to make all of its packaging recyclable by 2025, announced in August plans to launch aluminium cans and resealable aluminium bottles for its U.S. Dasani water brand.
The company has also introduced a bottle made of 50% plant-based and recycled material and said it will use an average of 50% recycled material in all its cans and bottles by 2030.
Pepsi said in June its Aquafina water brand would offer aluminium cans in food service outlets and launch a test in shops while its “bubly” flavoured sparkling water would no longer use any plastic packaging.
Pepsi, which also said LIFEWTR would use plastic bottles with 100% recycled content, has said it will use an average of 25% recycled plastic in all its bottles by 2025.
Danone, which uses 400,000 tonnes of PET plastic bottles each year, plans to use an average of 50% recycled material in its water bottles by 2025 and 100% for its Evian brand.
The world’s second-biggest bottled water company by volume told Reuters it was also starting to introduce aluminium cans on a limited scale in Britain, Poland and Denmark.
Nestle, which sells Vittel, Perrier and S.Pellegrino, has expanded the use of returnable containers, water dispensers and products made with recycled plastic, including Valvert water in Belgium with 100% recycled material.
Nestle, the top bottled water company by volume, launched aluminium cans for S.Pellegrino flavoured water and Perrier juice this year.
Italy’s San Benedetto launched small aluminium cans last December. “We’re planning a significant growth in the next few years ... first market acceptance seem to be quite positive,” it told Reuters.
A clutch of new water brands in cans have popped up, using aluminium as a green selling point. Mananalu was launched by actor Jason Momoa, who played Aquaman, and Liquid Death was released to appeal to “straight-edge punks”.
Ever and Ever says the brand is “a love letter to aluminum”, while British start-up CanO Water was founded by three friends in their 20s after seeing plastic waste on a Thai beach.
In addition to the shift from plastic, cans have also been bolstered by moves from glass bottles. Craft beer firms like the ability to put bold graphics on cans and they also save on transport costs since trucks can carry about twice as many lightweight cans than glass bottles.
Some wineries have also started using cans.
Reporting by Eric Onstad; Editing by Pravin Char