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Interview Details

Interview with Patricia Fosselard

  • Secretary General, European Federation of Bottled Waters
  • Dated: Monday, June 2nd 2014
  • EWP: Obviously the challenges which face the bottled water sector vary differently according to geography, but what would you say are the main challenges which face your member companies across the board?

    I would say that the main challenge for the industry is educating consumers and stakeholders; in spite of the collective efforts undertaken by producers and trade associations across Europe in recent years, there is still a need to better inform on the specificities of European natural mineral waters and spring waters – which account for 97% of the bottled water market - and on producers’ good environmental stewardship. Also, there are misconceptions about the bottled water’s impact on the environment.

    EWP: Human activity and its footprint on the environment is an emerging risk for an industry which relies on the exploitation of a natural product of underground origin and must abstract, bottle and deliver it to the final consumer as pure and pristine as it was at source. What does it mean for you for a mineral water bottler to be a good water steward?

    Comprehensive ground water management is crucial to ensure protection of the source from contamination and to guarantee both the quality and quantity of natural mineral waters and spring waters.

    For a bottled water producer, sustainable water management will involve primarily: source protection, sustainable abstraction level and efficiency in industrial water use.

    • ·      Source protection: Natural mineral water and spring water must be safe to drink at source and may not be chemically treated or disinfected. Ensuring the highest level of source protection is key for the industry. In Europe, bottlers have been protecting the sources and the catchment areas around them as early as the 19th century, defining protection zones which can cover up to thousands of hectares. The protection is generally achieved through partnerships with local communities, authorities and all relevant stakeholders whose activity may have an impact on the quality of groundwater. The measures taken may include limited human activity, pesticides and fertilizers management, selected tree-planting etc.
    • ·       Abstraction level: Natural mineral and spring waters come from renewable resources which are managed at sustainable rate of abstraction under the control of local authorities to ensure that there is no harmful impact on neighbouring water users and that the resource is available for generations to come.  Effective management means in depth knowledge of the aquifer and includes hydro-geological studies and analysis, monitoring spring flows and water levels.
    • ·       Water efficiency: Bottled water probably has the lowest water use ratio of all packaged foods and drinks.  Typically, it takes on average less than 1.8 litres of water to produce 1 litre of bottled water and the ratio is steadily declining as demonstrated by two surveys carried out by EFBW across European bottling plants. Improving water efficiency is an important objective for the sector. European producers actively monitor their consumption for on-site industrial operations and have implemented various innovative procedure and technologies to reduce their water use. Needless to say water is carried from the source to the bottling plant via state of the art pipes which ensure there is absolutely no leakage.  It is also worth noting that the bottled water industry is a very marginal user of water: its entire activity amounts to less than 0.02% of total volume abstracted in Europe.   

    EWP: What is the main incentive of the sector to improve their water and other environmental impact management? Water is the raison d’être of the industry, so I would say it does not need any encouragement to be a good steward in that regard. Environment protection is key to the very survival of the activity as natural mineral and spring water are very delicate products. Bottlers have been pioneers in many respects, not only in groundwater protection but in other aspects such as packaging recycling and light-weighting. Careful resource management often also coincides with cost reduction. Last but not least, water is a very emotive product most of us care a lot about, which is why consumers and stakeholders expect careful environmental stewardship from the bottled water industry, perhaps more than from any other industry.

     EWP: One hot topic which faces mineral water bottlers includes the issue of plastic water bottles. Is there a trend amongst companies to shift from glass bottles to plastic bottles in order to reduce their water impact?

    First of all, I would like to underline the crucial role played by packaging in protecting the original qualities possessed by natural mineral and spring water producers at source and preserving them until each bottle reaches the final consumer. Generally speaking, the essential role of packaging in protecting food and avoiding food waste is often overlooked.

    When it comes to choosing a packaging material for a mineral or spring water, producers use glass, PET plastic and aluminium, which are all efficient at protecting the product, safe for consumers and 100% recyclable. There is continuous research to further reduce the impact of packaging whether through light-weighting, recycling, use of bio-material (non-competing with food applications), etc.

    Water use is certainly an important aspect of sustainable management. However, environmental assessments require a holistic approach taking into account a wide range of criteria. On that basis, it cannot be deemed that one material is better than another.

    This said, it is true that the percentage of water packaged in PET is increasing. One of the reasons accounting for that, is that there is a growing trend for consumers to opt for ‘on the go’ consumption of bottled water; PET water bottles provide consumers with a very convenient and lightweight option  to stay hydrated throughout the day.  Also recycled PET is used for a diversity of applications including to produce new bottles.

  • Patricia Fosselard
  • Secretary General, European Federation of Bottled Waters
In the bottled mineral water sector, comprehensive ground water management is crucial to ensure protection of the source from contamination and to guarantee both the quality and quantity of natural mineral waters and spring waters.

- Patricia Fosselard
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