The age of bottled water may soon come to an end — or at least plateau.
Last week the Wall Street Journal published a piece that called the future of the bottled water industry into question. The “why” is obvious: Driven by images of waste-choked ocean life, plus government and corporate initiatives to eliminate single-use plastic straw use, consumers are looking for alternatives to the most popular bottled beverage in the U.S. And the industry is already feeling it: U.S. bottled water sales are expected to grow by only 6.7 percent this year — the smallest increase this decade.
What wasn’t so clear from the piece, however, is what commercially viable alternatives are out there. To combat the downturn in sales, bottled water companies are scrambling to create a better bottle, either by promoting plans to switch to 100 percent recycled plastic, or leveraging new materials like cardboard containers (à la cafeteria milk) and glass. But boxed water and glass bottles are expensive and delicate, and we’re years away from a 100 percent recycled plastic bottle.
While eco-conscious consumers can certainly fill up a reusable water bottle instead of buying a plastic one, that doesn’t satisfy the growing demand for flavored seltzers and “healthy” mineral waters. It’s hard to find a replacement for bottled options that give options for carbonation and flavor add-ins — but a few disrupters in the market are working on it. Here are four companies trying to shake up how you hydrate, sustainably:
PepsiCo’s Drinkfinity + SodaStream
Back in August PepsiCo announced plans to acquire SodaStream, makers of the popular countertop carbonation system. The initial investment in the device has a relatively high monetary and environmental cost (it is, after all, made of plastic), it pays off in the long run since you theoretically don’t won’t be buying any more single-use plastic bottles.
This move came just a few months after the beverage giant launched DrinkFinity, a system which lets you flavor your water with special pods that go into a PepsiCo reusable drink “vessel.” Chris tested them out and determined that the taste was actually pretty good — and the reusable bottle could help keep plastic out of the waste stream. Bonus: you can recycle the flavor pods by mailing them in.
Of course, PepsiCo also owns bottled water company Aquafina and recently launched Bubly, a flavored seltzer which comes in cans and bottles — both of which put a lot of single-use plastic on shelves. But with SodaStream and Drinkfinity the company is offering (more) sustainable options for bottled water lovers, even ones who like flavor and fizz with their H20.
rOcean’s sleek home device
On the surface, rOcean’s countertop device sounds a lot like a SodaStream: both appliances flavor and carbonate water. But as Richard Gunther wrote on the Spoon a few months ago, rOcean has two advantages: it hooks up directly to your tap, and also allows consumers to fill the flavor cartridges with their own preferred flavorings (though they’re still reliant on rOcean’s proprietary water filters and CO2 cartridges).
Despite these value-adds, rOcean has yet to prove that they can deliver. The company’s first round of pre-orders is expected to ship this month, so we’ll see if rOcean can follow through on its promise to help you save time, money, and the oceans.
Mitte’s mineral water appliance
Flavor and carbonation are all well and good, but what about the distinct minerality that makes bottled water taste like it came straight from a mountain stream? Mitte is breaking mineral water out of the bottle. The Berlin-based company has a countertop device which lets you distill and create your own custom mineralized water at home, using replaceable cartridges.
As with the SodaStream and rOcean, Mitte’s appliance isn’t waste-free: its device is made of plastic, and I couldn’t find details about whether or not its cartridges were recyclable. But it’s a heck of a lot better than grabbing a bottle of Fiji every day on your way to the gym. The company has also reportedly been in conversations with appliance makers like LG and Whirlpool, exploring ways to integrate their product directly into refrigerators or kitchen sinks, which could cut down on the waste and space requirements.
Bevi’s customizeable water machine
Bevi makes a smart beverage device which hooks up to a tap and dispenses purified, sparkling, and flavored H20 with varying levels of sweetness. Designed to be installed in public areas like schools, gyms, cafeterias, and offices, the company’s core mission is to reduce plastic water bottle use.
When covering Bevi’s machine earlier this year, Jenn Marston mused on a future in which Bevi (or Bevi-like) machines were everywhere from fast food joints to Starbucks to gas stations, offering consumers a near-omnipresent alternative to fridges filled with plastic bottles.
But will they replace plastic water bottles?
Of course, while these companies are all working to make it easy to skip out on plastic water bottles, there’s one huge hurdle they may never overcome: convenience. It may be easy, even fun, to tap a few buttons and create a custom water blend to fill up your reusable bottle — but it will never be quite as quick or easy as grabbing a bottle of Evian from your fridge or a gas station fridge. Until it is, these solutions will have a hard time getting rid of plastic water bottles for good.