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Eric Benson

Champaign, IL, United States

Assistant Professor of Graphic Design

Member since May 22, 2007

  • More bottled water Greenwashing

    Environment, Communication Design


    July 22, 2008 Last week I attended a faculty retreat where, as I sat down, was handed a bottle of Nestle Pure Life brand bottled water. Typically I don't drink any bottled water unless it is in situations where the only other choice is to dehydrate my body and consequently die. I twisted off the cap and immediately noticed the slimmer bottle design. As I turned around the bottle in my hands, I noticed a somewhat mysterious back yellow label claiming Nestle was great for the planet. The label reads:

    Nestle® Pure Life® is proud to bring you a bottle that is better for the environment, because it is made with up to 30% less plastic.

    I saved the bottle after drinking its contents as I recognized Nestle had committed two green washing sins (of the six): Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off, and Sin of Fibbing. The trade-off sin comes with the fact that most of bottled water drinkers are still throwing the PET plastic bottle away at alarming rates (PET is recycled around 20% in the USA - 2006 stats). However in this case, you're throwing a "up to 30% less" away. Nestle's real claim here is that they are using most likely less petroleum and energy to manufacture this bottle, preventing CO2 emissions and other pollutants from entering our air/water and of course saving them money. If you buy this bottle you get the same amount of water (amazingly) but still the pay the same price. The cost savings Nestle achieved with this bottle is not passed down to you.

    The second sin here is lying. Essentially there is nothing green or sustainable about PET or bottled water. Bottled water waste clogs our landfills and environment, dry up underground aquifers costing farmlands and wetlands, continue our dependence on oil, etc. The act of buying water in which you then throw away the packaging that costs 1000 times the price of tap water is nothing more than ingenious marketing scam and a threat to our clean water supply and environment.

    (The other bottle picture here is from Ice Mountain water – which is owned by Nestle. So it is no surprise they also have a similar bottle design and eco-friendly messaging. Of course on Ice Mountain it is "greened" up a bit to wow all of us simple-minded consumers.)

  • Needless to say that I agree on the damages done by our habit of bottling water. Most of the bottled water complies with the same standards as tap water and some of the major brands are actually tap water. I also agree on the need to stop all kind of green washing...even when it is done with clean water. What I do not agree with is the expectation that a 30% lighter bottle would automatically cost less. But first of all we should acknowledge that within a bad habit (bottling water) there are different responsibilities and the responsibility to recycle is with the end user. Nestlé and others can only point out that it can and should be recycled; the rest is up to us. It is unfortunate, but there are many, many PET bottles that are not recyclable for a simple reason: the label has been glued on to the bottle. It is one of these cases of lack of information down the production stages. The manufacturer of PET informs the moulder of the bottles that the PET is recyclable and the moulder passes on the same message to the bottler. The bottler expects to be entitled to pass on the message to the consumer, but by choosing to glue the label on or to print directly on the bottle he makes the re-cycling either difficult or impossible. Labels on any PET bottle should be shrink labels a wrap around label that tightens around the bottle when heated. Right now a minority of bottlers uses them and so only a small amount is recycled. One of the many things we have to learn in recycling is that we have more and more evidence that the plastic actually improves during the re-cycling. Generally we accepted a slight deterioration of the mechanical strength, but more recently studies have shown that residue from the initial polymerisation process are reduced during the re-cycling. Biphenol-A in polycarbonate (permanent water bottles, water cooler bottles etc.) is one of those chemicals that is measurably reduced. In PET similar reductions are measured. We have to start thinking of plastics as a very valuable material. It’s strength, combined with light weight, low thermal conductivity etc. makes it a very green material, especially when transportation is involved, insulation of any building, electrical insulation, need for flexibility over other mechanical properties etc. To make it we use almost 3% of the oil and natural gas that is extracted, compared with the rest that we simply burn. Think of what would be our reaction to using 3% of all wood for furniture, building, paper manufacturing etc. and burn all the rest of it for heating and transportation and yet, we know how to grow trees, we have no idea how to produce oil. But…back to the price reduction…First of all prices in the capitalist system are were offer meets demand. We can agree or disagree with it but right now that is the system we live with. One could argue that the 30% less material does not reduced the perceived value of the bottle. So why reducing the price. But in reality the reduction of 30% material is only a small fraction of the cost of the bottle and less material does not mean shorter production time. It might actually be slower. It certainly required a major investment in research and subsequently in equipment. One should not deny a company the possibility to recuperate this investment before competitors do the same thing.
    I did not grow up with bottled water, so I never used it and I have never bought one single bottle. The lack of it did not in any way reduce my happiness or well being. So, to start with, we should avoid it. It costs more than gasoline and it has been very costly in terms of the environment. Just think of a small glass bottle of Evian. The energy needed to make it or to recycle the glass of one bottle is enough to produce 15 PET bottles; it is transported all over the world at high cost for the environment. How can we sit on a terrace and enjoy it other than by being ignorant and or irresponsible.

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My Interests

  • Industrial Design
  • Environmental Design
  • Communication Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Audio/Visual Design