We are obsessed with our disposable plastic water bottles. In 2006, Americans purchased 31 billion disposable water bottles, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation . In order to produce that many bottles, 17 million barrels of oil were consumed which does not take into account the energy used in transportation. In addition, 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide was produced to make those bottles. [Source]
Although I am not advocating the use of disposable water bottles, I realize that many people will continue to use them since they are convenient and easily accessible. So, how do we get off the oil gravy train and still have our beloved disposable water bottles?
I had the pleasure of interviewing Darren Keller, the CEO of Re:newal Water, who produces a Florida spring fed bottled water. The bottle is made out of Polylactic Acid (PLA.) The podcast is listed above. I urge everyone to listen to it since Keller is quite fascinating. As I approached this interview, the pros and cons of PLA swirled in my head. Listed below are the key points that Keller and I touched on. Could Re:newal water be the answer to get us off the oil treadmill? Readers, you be the judge.
What is the re:newal bottle made of?
Polylactic Acid (PLA) is a bio-based polymer made of renewable sources. Ingeo™made by NatureWorks LLC, an independent company wholly owned by Cargill, is the trade name of the PLA in Re:newal Water’s bottles. Nature Works LLC touts their product as being the first polymer showing a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. (See here for NatureWorks’ ecoprofile.) Re:newal Water states in regards to the renewable source of their products,
“Today,NatureWorks LLC uses dextrose, a natural sugar derived from the starch in kernels of corn (maize), as the primary raw material for Ingeo biopolymer used to make re:newalTM bottles. Other agricultural raw materials such as rice, sugar beets, sugar cane, wheat and sweet potatoes can also serve as sugar sources to make Ingeo biopolymer used to make re:newalTM bottles.”
The bottle does not contain any petroleum by-products. However, Keller aptly stated there may be petroleum used in the processing or shipping.
How do you Recycle the Product?
Additionally, PLA is biodegradable or perhaps compostable in certain conditions. Elizabeth Royte states in her article, “Corn Plastic to the Rescue,”
“PLA is said to decompose into carbon dioxide and water in a “controlled composting environment” in fewer than 90 days. What’s a controlled composting environment? Not your backyard bin, pit or tumbling barrel. It’s a large facility where compost—essentially, plant scraps being digested by microbes into fertilizer—reaches 140 degrees for ten consecutive days. So, yes, as PLA advocates say, corn plastic is “biodegradable.” But in reality very few consumers have access to the sort of composting facilities that can make that happen.”
So, how good is a product that can’t be recycled because it is ahead of its time? During our interview, Keller indicated a new company, Biocor, buys PLA from recycling companies, and returns the same to its original form of lactic acid. The lactic acid could either be sold to make other products or make the same product again. (See my upcoming interview podcast with Mike Center, Executive Director of Biocor.)
What about the cap? Unfortunately, PLA does not have the characteristics to make a good cap. In addition, may areas of the country only take #1 and #2 plastic water bottles for recycling. Caps are made of polypropylene (#5.) However, Aveda takes back the caps to use with their products. Please remember this when you recycle any PET or PLA bottle.
When you think of a plant based product, I worry about shelf life. Keller assured me that the shelf life is the same as a PET bottle. His bottles have a shelf life of two years from the date of bottling. In the past. PLA bottles suffered from water vapor loss, but this new generation of PLA does not have the same problems.
I also wondered about PLA bottle leaching since PET bottle are notorious leachers. (See here for more health issues with PET water bottles.) Ever since I read an Arizona study which revealed antimony leaching at high temperatures from PET bottles, I never permit a plastic water bottle in my car. (My kids sneak them in. Not me.)
Keller explained that the only danger of high temperatures is water loss. The bottle contains a warning that bottles should not be exposed to temperatures that exceed 105 degrees. He further explained that 105 degrees is a conservative number since the water is bottled at much higher ambient temperatures in Florida.
Is their Water just like Tap water?
Bottle water has gotten the reputation that it is no better or perhaps worse than tap water. Keller stated that their water comes from a spring in Florida, and they consider the bottle water to be premium quality. They could use reverse osmosis or distill the water but chose to keep the spring water in its natural state. They do use micron filters, and UV lights as well as ozonating the water to remove impurities.
The water is tested every year and the results can be foundhere on the Company’s website. Keller noted their last test revealed that their water contained 46 TDS. (total dissolved solids) According to Keller, there is a small amount of fluoride naturally occurring in the water. It is not removed from the water since the Company’s stance is it is not harmful. No additional fluoride is added. (Note, the addition of fluoride to public water sources has been quite controversial. See here about the fluoride debate.)
Corn and the GMO debate
Anytime I think of corn based products, the question that comes to mind is the product genetically modified. Keller explained NatureWorks can not promise that the product is GMO-free, but if a Company desires a GMO free batch, NatureWorks can provide such a batch at a much higher price. Right now, the Company is trying to obtain a market share of the disposable water industry. At that time, the Company’s intention is to provide a non-GMO product.
In addition to the GMO argument, PLA opponents cite that farm land is being used for raising corn and not for needed food crops. Keller indicated that all the corn comes from the US and only a portion of the kernel is used which ordinarily would be wasted.
So would you be paying more green for the product?
Keller stated their price point was in the middle of the pack, being more expensive than the generic brands but less than those which are produced half way around the world. (Update: 12/29/2011) For distributors, see here on Re:newal’s website. You can no longer buy their product form their website.
What About the Packaging?
When you walk into a supermarket or wholesale buying store, the bottle water is wrapped in plastic. Keller indicated that the Company is trying to get away from PET packaging and veer towards recycled paper. They are working towards 6 to 12 bottle packs in recycled cardboard.
At the end of the interview, Keller indicated that the name, Re:newal, was picked as the Company’s name, as corny as it may seems, because they wants consumers to look at buying water in a new way.
Although the concept of any bottle water seems odd to me since today there are so many options to use a reusable container, I am not the norm. People will still carry bottled water regardless of the environmental or health reasons. Renewal offers a non-plastic alternative which could one day be non-GMO as well. The Company truly is trying to re-define our plastic obsession with their “unplastic water bottle.”
So, Readers, what’s the jury say about this product?
- would you buy this product?
- what are your thoughts about Re:newal’s concept?
- what are your thoughts about PLA?