Richard Hall, chairman of Zenith International, believes that companies and governments should follow a ‘global protocol’ for bottled water. Almost every category of food and drink has been criticised at some time or another for particular unwanted consequences. Few have been spared, from chocolate to potatoes and from wine to milk.
Many products have reduced their fat, salt and sugar content or provided a range of alternatives. The soft drinks industry went further by introducing guidelines that restrict advertising to younger consumers, by specifying what products are appropriate in schools and by going beyond legal requirements in labelling.
As bottled water has grown in popularity, it too has become a target, yet bottled water has no health drawbacks for the average consumer and has positive answers to its environmental detractors. In fact, it can make such a strong contribution to society’s health and well-?being that I believe the leading companies and associations should join forces to agree a common set of principles and messages about wider goals in a global protocol.
This global protocol should have three key dimensions: public health, environmental impact and social contribution. The protocol statements under these headings should be regarded as a general call to action. The idea is that companies should sign up to the protocol as a set of objectives, and should then seek to implement them over an agreed period of time.
Here is what I think a global protocol should include.
The first task is to adopt the European Food Safety Authority guidelines on hydration as the industry’s standard for healthy hydration.
The second is to advocate the acceptance by governments and public health authorities of water as a macro-?nutrient, the most important single element in life and in any diet.
The third is to ensure water is a key factor in all national guidelines on a balanced diet, featuring prominently in any summary or visual recommendations. A good example of this is the healthy hydration glass adopted by the Natural Hydration Council.
This approach should then form the basis of an internationally consistent media campaign promoting good hydration for good health.
As a target, 5% of any company’s brand or corporate advertising budget should be devoted to industry-?wide generic messages or scientific research to substantiate them.
The two major concerns about environmental impact relate to the use of materials and then their reusability. No single industry can resolve all the issues affecting consumer choice in a market-?based economy, but the bottled water industry can and should do as much as possible.
The first environmental step is to put ‘100% recyclable’ on every single bottle of water in PET, glass or other recyclable material. This offers the simplest message to consumers and demonstrates the industry’s commitment to recycling.
The next step is to agree a timetable, at the end of which no bottled water would be sold in coloured materials, but only clear glass or PET, to improve the reusability of materials in recycling.
The industry should further agree only to use PET-?compliant plastics in plastic bottles, as some new materials are at risk of jeopardising the effectiveness of recycling facilities.
It would also be helpful to set regularly updated benchmarks for best practice in the lightweighting of all materials, including bottles, caps, labels and crates etc, so that all companies can progressively reduce the amount of new material they require.
A key immediate environmental priority is to campaign for local and national governments to adopt kerbside collection of used bottles as the most effective means of creating a sustainable supply chain for high quality recycling and reuse of materials, ideally enabling bottles to be recycled in a closed loop back into new drinks packaging.
Beyond health and the environment, but also closely related, the industry has every reason to reaffirm its wider social commitment and contribution.
Industry members are often the largest local employers in remote rural regions, preserving landscapes and aquifers in the most sustainable way for generations to come, and this deserves to be proclaimed in a series of good practice policies.
Because of its contribution to public health, no natural water product should be subject to any Value Added Tax or other sales tax. Water is the most basic and essential ingredient of life. It should be unthinkable for its consumption to be taxed.
At the same time, bottled water companies should resolve to promote all water consumption, including tap water, even though research shows that bottled water is most often consumed in place of other commercial beverages such as hot or soft drinks rather than tap water.
As far as possible, the industry should adopt common messaging on all these topics across every medium, from fact sheets and leaflets to online and social networks.
Lastly, companies that sign up to this protocol should accept a leadership role in responding to these needs of society, demonstrating a desire to deal with any problems that may be perceived, and to be part of the solution to them.
Support for any implementation of such a protocol would improve public health and help tackle obesity while reducing health service costs and environmental concerns.