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Bottled water sales are at an all-time high, and people are coming to terms with the environmental impact.

Mike Pomranz
December 14, 2018

Not that cutting back on plastic straws isn’t a worthy cause, but I’ve seen plastic straws all my life. Meanwhile, possibly the biggest shift in single-use plastics I’ve seen over the past three decades has been the proliferation of plastic water bottles. Last year, 13.7 billion gallons of bottled water were sold in the U.S., the most ever; back in the early ‘80s, that number was less than a billion. So though plastic straws may be the trending topic du jour, as the Wall Street Journal reported, plastic water bottles may soon have their reckoning as well.

Danone, parent company for water brand Evian, admitted that the writing appears to be on the wall for finding better water bottle solutions. “People are really concerned about what’s happening with the packaging,” Igor Chauvelot, who helps with Danone’s sustainability issues, told the WSJ. “It’s a concern and an opportunity at the same time.” The opportunity comes in the form of leading the way in bottle development, something Evian has pledged to do: This year, the brand said it would make all of its bottles from recycled plastic by 2025.

But similar to how recycling coffee cups has proved easier said than done, finding a way to turn recycled materials into new plastic water bottles has proven tricky. In Evian’s case, the brand has been working with a company called Loop Industries that have reportedly shown they can recycle plastics into bottles that meet Danone’s quality control standards on a trial basis, but scaling up that technology won’t happen until at least 2020.

And even if bottles can be made from recycled materials, recycling the bottles that are out there is also a huge concern. Pepsi apparently told the WSJ that less than a third of plastic bottles sold in the U.S. are collected for recycling, and from there, less than 1 percent of those bottles are processed back into food-grade plastics.

Meanwhile, in some ways, the bottled water industry is facing a race against time as everyone from private business to government-owned parks and zoos to entire cities to the entire European Union weigh ways to help the environment through measures like recycling initiatives or outright bans.

Of course, it’s as naïve as Evian spelled backwards to think that bottled water is going to go from all-time high sales to a troubled industry overnight. Still, if plastic straws are being deemed mostly unnecessary, then plastic water bottles can certainly fit into that group as well. I know, because when I was a kid, we didn’t have plastic water bottles, and I managed to stay perfectly hydrated.