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Bottled water giant admits environmental “breathing”

In ongoing lawsuits over the green wash of plastic recycling, the bottled water company BlueTriton made a revealing argument: its claims to be environmentally friendly are not violations of the law because they are “aspirative”.

BlueTriton – which owns Poland Spring, Pure Life, Splash, Ozarka and Arrowhead, among many other brands – is estimated to contribute hundreds of millions of pounds of plastic to American landfills each year. BlueTriton was formerly called Nestlé Waters North America, which was bought by the capital fund One Rock Capital Partners in March 2021. The company, which has a history of draining groundwater reservoirs to get the water, which it encloses in polluting plastic, owns approx. one-third of the bottled water brands in the United States. But with sleek, green – and blue – PR materials, BlueTriton markets itself as a solution to the problems of plastic waste and water.

“Water is at the heart of our sustainable efforts to meet the needs of future generations,” BlueTriton states on its website, elaborating on its commitment to sustainable management over an image of pine trees, pristine water and clouds. The company’s Instagram account is similarly nature-oriented and healthy, filled with green-colored photos of people going for walks and enhancing the native trout stock.

The allegations were a bridge too far for the Earth Island Institute, which sued BlueTriton in August, arguing that their misleading sustainability claims violated a local law in Washington, DC, known as the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, designed to prevent “misleading commercial practices.” ” In response, the company defended its green self-promotion by explaining that everyone should realize that the allegations are meaningless nonsense.

“Many of the statements in question here constitute non-aggression swearing,” BlueTriton’s attorneys wrote in a motion to dismiss the case, which was filed in a DC court in March. “BlueTriton’s portrayal of itself as ‘a guardian of sustainable resources’ and ‘a company that is fundamentally concerned about water’ is vague and hyperbolic,” the lawyers continued. “Because these statements are ‘made in hopeful terms’, they cannot serve as a basis for plaintiff’s CPPA claims.”

Dirty business

When BlueTriton chose a new logo in April 2021, it explained its choice on Instagram as a nod to its commitment to nature and the environment. “Triton is a sea god in classical Greek mythology,” the company wrote. “Combined with the color blue, which represents water, the new name and logo reflect our role as guardian of sustainable resources and supplier of fresh water.”

Several of its brands go even further and suggest that they are helping to solve the plastic problem, because the bottles can in principle be recycled. BlueTriton brands Poland Spring, Ozarka and Zephyrhills Water announce that “We use # 1PET plastic that can be used over and over again!” Pure Life water boasts that all of its bottles are “100% recyclable … and can be used for new bottles and all sorts of new, recyclable items.” Deer Park claims that its recyclable bottles help “keep plastic out of landfills” and that the company “usually[s] about you and our planet. “

In truth, there is overwhelming evidence that recycling cannot solve the plastic problem. Since the 1950s, only 9 percent of the plastic produced has been recycled, while the vast majority of plastic waste is either landfilled or incinerated. Six times more plastic waste is incinerated than recycled in the United States. The packaging, including the PET bottles that the BlueTriton brands describe as recyclable, accounts for more than half of the plastic that ends up in landfills.

As the complaint shows, plastic pollution is now so prevalent that the average person drinks more than 1,700 tiny pieces of plastic in a week’s drinking water – equivalent to an entire credit card. Microplastics are found in 94.4 percent of tap water samples in the United States and can be an even bigger problem in bottled water, despite bottled water companies marketing their product as pollution-free. One BlueTriton brand, Pure Life, had twice as high levels of plastic fibers as tap water.

Meanwhile, as BlueTriton presents itself as a solution to America’s water problems, it has been caught extracting water from the national forest without permission. Practices utilizing natural water supplies have been shown to drain groundwater reservoirs and rivers, take water from plants and animals, and public drinking water reserves.

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Graphics: Beyond Plastic

Empty promises

With increasing public awareness of the role that bottled water companies play in the plastic pollution crisis, companies have publicly promised to do better. In 2008, Nestlé Waters North America committed to recycling 60 percent of PET bottles by 2018. The company proudly announced its intentions in its first corporate citizenship report (which is no longer available online). But when the deadline came and its recycling rate was still less than half of its target – only 28.9 percent according to a 2020 report from the Changing Markets Foundation – the company has just issued another promise instead of dwelling on its non-fulfillment of the former. .

The loud announcement of high targets for plastic recycling followed by the silent failure to meet them is part of a larger pattern. Since at least 1990, Coca-Cola has made repeated promises on the plastics front, including promises to use more recycled plastic, recycle and refill more of its bottles, and incorporate more plant-based materials. The company, which has fought against the efforts that would reduce plastic waste and recently hired Bill Nye to help clean up its image, regularly rolls out these goals with great fanfare and rarely meets them, if ever. Coca-Cola did not respond to a request for comment.

The distances between PR and reality are particularly pronounced around promises to increasingly rely on recycled plastic, which is far more expensive to use than new plastic. According to Beyond Plastics, 10 major companies – including L’Oréal, Unilever, Nestlé and PepsiCo – had promised huge reductions in their reliance on virgin plastic while continuing to rely on new plastic. The environmental organization based its results on 2019 data, the latest available.

BlueTriton, which does not publicly display a media contact and does not allow journalists to ask questions, did not respond to a request from The Intercept for this article (which was conveyed through a message left at the sales department). But in its application, which asks the court to dismiss the greenwashing lawsuit, the company claims that some of its brands have taken several steps to show that they are genuinely sustainable. It says that Pure Life, for example, has rebuilt the cooling towers in its bottling plants to recycle water that was previously discharged. And that business is also “reduce[ing] the amount of plastic in our 0.5 liter bottles by over 40% “and” improving our production processes to reduce the amount of water needed to make one liter of Pure Life® purified water. “One Rock Capital Partners, the private equity firm that bought Nestlé Waters North America, also did not respond to a request from The Intercept.

“They admit that they use these sustainability commitments just as marketing tools.”

Sumona Majumdar, Advocate General at the Earth Island Institute, denied these allegations. “You can not claim to be a sustainable company while using plastic as your primary packaging,” Majumdar said. “Maybe there was a time when a company might have thought that our plastic would be recycled and turned into plastic again. But at this point, everyone knows that’s not true.”

Majumdar counts the company’s leaders among those who clearly understand that they are contributing to the plastic waste crisis – even as their spin suggests otherwise.

“When you look at their Instagram feeds and their statements on sustainability, it seems like a fait accompli. But in this brief they have filed, they admit that they use these sustainability commitments just as marketing tools,” Majumdar said. just to get consumers to buy their goods, and not because they actually intend to follow through on their promises. “

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