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Message On A Bottle: Own Your Own, Don't Recycle

Forget the Prius and energy-efficient light bulbs; the new symbol of an environmentally-friendly life may be a reusable water bottle. Not recycled ones.

Russell Starr

As people consume more bottled water, there's been growing concern over how empty plastic bottles are disposed of. Last year, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, Americans drank over 8.8 billion gallons of bottled water, making it the second most popular beverage.

The effect is that consumers are increasingly looking at drinking tap water from reusable water bottles. Steve Wasik, CEO of SIGG, a company based in Switzerland that manufacturers aluminum reusable bottles says the “growing trend in eco-living and the media’s focus on the impact of bottled water on the environment” has consumers looking for a better way to consume water. Wasik says sales of SIGG’s bottles have tripled in the past year.

The concept was given a boost last June when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom banned city departments from spending city funds on single servings of bottled water. The decision drew national attention, and other major cities like New York and Los Angeles are considering a similar ban.

The move away from bottled water has reached Corporate America, where employers are handing out reusable bottles to employees in an effort to reduce bottled water waste. Wasik, for example, counts Google and The Walt Disney Company’s Pixar division as SIGG customers. The companies, he said, are “giving each of their employees a SIGG,” which has ”helped many of their employees kick their bottled water habit.”

This Earth Day, colleges across the nation are handing out reusable bottles to students. At the University of Tampa, for example, People Exploring Active Community Experience, an organization at the school, will be handing out a free reusable bottle to every student who gives them ten empty water bottles to recycle. Molly Murphy, a student and one of the organization's coordinators, says students wear their reusable bottle like a badge of honor, promoting the fact that they are "pro-green."

“There’s definitely a trend” of consumers looking to find an alternative to bottled water, says Shel Horowitz, author of “Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First.” He adds that the trend will “shift public behavior in a big way” in the next few years.

Marketers and companies that make or sell reusable water bottles are taking full advantage of the awareness. They are dedicating a large part of their marketing campaigns on how using their products are better for the environment then bottled water.

Clorox’s Brita water filtration system, for instance, launched filterforgood.com, where visitors can take a pledge to reduce bottled water waste. Brita partnered with Nalgene, a reusable water bottle manufacturer owned by Thermo Fisher Scientific, to create a bottle bearing the logos of filterforgood.com and Brita.

Klean Kanteen, a smaller company that was started in 2004, sells stainless steel bottles on its Website. Klean Kanteen says business has tripled in just the last year.

Soda-Club offers a device that allows consumers to carbonate their water and turn it into seltzer or a flavored soda.

One marketing company that is bringing the message front and center is Tappening, a company started by marketing professionals, Eric Yaverbaum and Mark DiMassimo. The company sells reusable bottles with a message. One of the plastic bottles it sells has the phrase "Think Global. Drink Local." Tappening says it has sold 200,000 units via its Website, tappening.com. Yaverbaum says some of the profits are used to educate the public about the environmental impact of bottled water.

The bottled water industry finds this all a bit hard to swallow. Joe Doss, president and CEO of International Bottled Water Association, says that its not fair to "target just one product” as being harmful to the environment when so many consumer products cause just as much waste.

Meanwhile, major bottled water companies, such as Coca-Cola , Pepsi and Nestle have made sweeping changes to how their bottles are made, including a significant reduction in the amount of plastic involved. Some of the companies have also funded programs to educate the public on how to properly recycle empty bottles.

Yaverbaum says his mission to stop bottled water waste is not over yet. Tappening plans to unleash an advertising campaign in large cities across America that will educate consumers on the effect of water bottles on the environment.

“We plan on making drinking tap water cool," says Yaverbaum, just like how the water bottle industry has spent "millions of advertising dollars on making bottled water cool.”

(Editor's Note: Some hard plastic reusable bottles are made of BPA, a compound in hard, clear polycarbonate plastics, that is under scrutiny by the government's National Toxicology Program and scientists that are concerned about BPA leaching from plastics into their food or beverages that might cause health problems. Nothing has been proven about the safety of these products. The only company mentioned in this story that has sold products made with BPA was Nalgene, however, they have since announced that they will phase out all products made with BPA within the next few months and continue to sell a wide range of reusable bottles that are BPA free. You can read more about that by clicking here.)

Comments, Questions: joseph.pisani@nbcuni.com