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Evian, Nestle race to cut plastic bottle waste

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Environmental group Greenpeace protesting against Nestle at its annual general meeting last week for its reliance on single-use plastic. They urged the world's largest food company to invest in alternative delivery systems based on refillable containers.

Zurich

TWO of the world's biggest water companies are thinking outside the bottle about how to hydrate consumers as environmental campaigners take aim at the enormous amount of plastic waste the industry produces.

Danone's Evian plans to start selling an in-home water appliance featuring a balloon-like container that cuts down on plastic use, while Nestle is working on an out-of-home dispensing system based on refillable bottles.

The moves are aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of a business that packages water from natural springs and transports it over long distances, with many bottles ending up polluting the oceans after they're discarded. Previous efforts to reduce the amount of plastic used, such as shrinking the size of caps, have made only minor differences.

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Now, as consumer groups and politicians step up pressure, the biggest players in the business are looking at more radical measures.

Danone's Evian Renew system is made up of a base dispenser and an exchangeable 5-litre bubble that contains the water. The recyclable bubble contains 66 per cent less plastic than a 1.5-litre Evian bottle, and features a skin so thin it contracts to a new shape after each use and collapses once empty.

Nestle Waters' system, to be introduced early next year, will allow consumers to access filtered water that can be customised with flavors or carbonation, a spokesman said, without providing details.

Governments around the world have been stepping up action to reduce plastic, from banning drinking straws to imposing fees on supermarket bags. The European Parliament last month approved a prohibition on single-use plastic consumer items from 2021.

Environmental group Greenpeace called out Nestle at its annual general meeting last week for its reliance on single-use plastic, urging the world's largest food company to invest in alternative delivery systems based on refilling containers. Nestle chief executive officer Mark Schneider has said reuse alone wouldn't solve the problem of waste.

While water coolers are office fixtures, Danone may have to overcome consumer reluctance to fill limited kitchen space with yet another appliance. Fizzy-drinks dispensers from SodaStream International, which PepsiCo bought for US$3.2 billion last year, have managed to break through.

Evian Renew eliminates the need to haul heavy water bottles home by providing delivery. The base is connected to a digital app that notifies consumers when a refill is due and lets them place an order by touching a button. The system aims to build customer loyalty by linking the product to the dispenser, as Nestle has done with its Nespresso coffee business.

Evian will start a four-month pilot phase with 200 consumers in Paris and London in September, aiming to roll out the system more broadly later. A Danone spokeswoman said pricing is still under review.

Patricia Oliva, Evian's head of marketing, said the company is on track toward its goals of becoming carbon neutral by 2020 and using only recycled plastic by 2025. Evian produced 1.9 billion bottles last year.

"Based on the conversations we've had with consumers, it's important to those who want to have natural mineral water at home to have a solution that's both more sustainable and more convenient," she said. BLOOMBERG