The South African National Bottled Water Association's (Sanbwa's) environmental committee has issued the association's members with guidelines aimed at improving environmental stewardship.
Sanbwa technical director Charlotte Metcalf says that these guidelines form part of Sanbwa's audited guidelines and standards. "We believe that the industry has a responsibility to continuously improve its protection and conservation of water resources wherever possible and also to contribute to reducing the consumption of energy resources," she says.
The Sanbwa logo emblazoned on each bottled water product is a guarantee to consumers of the manufacturers' commitment to stringent energy and water saving policies, reports Metcalf.
Sanbwa's environmental standards include measures for protecting the water source, ensuring the sustainability of the source, preventing contamination of the source and demonstrating practical social responsibility.
Protecting the water source is important for Sanbwa. Metcalf says that each member has to use water from sources that are sustainable and renewable. In this manner, the hydrogeology of the source is investigated.
Hydrogeology is the area of geology that deals with the distribution and movement of ground water in the soil and rocks of the earth's crust. The source of the water should be well protected from agricultural activities in the catchment area so that no contaminants can get into the water used for bottling.
Further, part of the sustainability standard involves measuring the use of water for every volume of finished product.
Improved effluent management is also a key focus area for members, as is the disposal of solid waste such as paper, plastic, steel, aluminium, cardboard, glass, wood and liquid waste such as oil, waste syrup and wastewater treatment plant sludge.
The Three Rs
Sanbwa requires members to increase solid waste recovery to 71% of total waste, through the implementation of programmes to reduce, reuse and recycle every part of its product and manufacturing processes.
"Recycling plastic bottles in which water is bottled is mandatory for all members. The bottles are made from polyethylene therephthalate (PET), an oil-based material that is the basis of most plastic beverage packaging. It is 100% recyclable," asserts Metcalf.
Further, Sanbwa has associate membership with PET recycler Petco. Petco's main members include manufacturers, importers and sellers of PET products. These members pay Petco a voluntary recycling levy of R250 for every ton of PET converted into products.
Metcalf believes that the bottled water industry has progressed beyond a simple business model of focusing purely on profit and loss. She highlights a philosophy the association would like to uphold, termed ‘true cost.'
"True cost is understanding the bigger picture and takes into account the total ecological impact of the bottled water industry," she says.
"I think every industry should have a ‘second set of books', which asks the questions about the full ecological impact throughout the product's lifecycle. Therefore, questions about how much energy and water was saved and recycled and where the environment is affected, needs to be asked," she adds.
Metcalf says that the industry uses water and energy wisely and has come under undue attack from environmentalists in the past owing to the use of PET in bottles.
However, the industry is receiving better press and is seen to be mindful of the environment. Further, the industry shows that ‘going green' translates into capital savings too. "If the manufacturer reduces energy use and cuts down on water use, then money will be saved," concludes Metcalf.