Africa Business Communities

[Column] Quinton Swart: Why boxed water is better? Thinking inside of the box when it comes to packaging water

Packaged water in South Africa is a growing market, commonly bottled in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic. While this material is recyclable, more than half of plastic waste is not recovered, most of it ending up in landfill or in waterways with a huge environmental impact. Consider that, with a million plastic bottles sold every minute around the world, it’s easy to do the maths on the detrimental ripple effect of our single-use bottled water behaviour.

What can be done about the problem? Switching to a beverage carton as packaging for a single-use water pack is one solution. Boxed water’s attributes include renewability and recyclability, as well as offering a sustainable alternative for consumers seeking products that are good for them and better for the environment than the alternative. If we can box other healthy beverages like milk and fruit juice, without compromising on quality and flavour, why not water?

The primary raw material of these water cartons is paperboard, which not only provides form and strength, but is also renewable. At Nampak Liquid Cartons, we ensure that all our fibre-board supplies are responsibly sourced from well-managed forests, where new trees are continuously planted to replace those harvested. These trees absorb carbon dioxide, which is locked into the wood fibres, even in the carton stage, acting as ‘carbon sinks’ to reduce the effect of global warming. In fact, older trees become less efficient at absorbing carbon, so the newly planted replacement trees ensure an even more efficient rate of carbon storage.

Boxed water cartons are 100% recyclable, including the inner layers of polyethylene and aluminium foil. These seal in the fresh water and act as a temperature insulator and protective light barrier. Post-consumer, the recycled paper from the cartons can be re-used to manufacture other products, such as cardboard boxes, kitchen towelling and takeaway food containers, that can be even further re-used several times over.

South Africa’s recycle recovery rate for paper products is almost 70% higher than plastic and glass. Liquid beverage cartons are currently a small percentage of overall paper recycling in South Africa, but through collaborative initiatives with Fibre Circle, this percentage is set to increase dramatically. Even if the carton end up in a landfill, it can break down far quicker than PET, which can take between 70 and 450 years to decompose, or glass which can take thousands of years, if at all.

Design and shipping play an important role in boxed water’s efficiencies. Beverage (paperboard) cartons are light in weight, needing less energy to produce and transport. Furthermore, the square format of filled product is more space efficient and easy to stack, whether it’s on a truck, in storage or on the retail shelf, compared to rounded bottles.

In addition, before filling, the cartons are transported as a flat pack, further reducing transport costs and carbon footprint. In fact, shipping of pre-filled cartons is 9 times more efficient than PET bottles due to the boxes innovative design. This means for every 1 truck you use to deliver cartons; you would need 9 trucks to deliver the same quantity of PET bottles. Hence, fewer trucks equate to fewer emissions.

The main ingredient of plastic is non-renewable fossil fuels such as oil or gas. On average a 500ml gable top carton contains 70% less plastic than the average equivalent PET bottle. The carton is kinder to the planet and 100% recyclable. And as the cartons are supplied with the design pre-printed, there is no need for additional adhesive labels, cutting down on further waste and energy.

Consider as a last point that a beverage carton, depending on size and cap, is up to 86% renewable, meaning that the raw material used in the manufacturing process can be regrown and is infinite. Consider the alternative of plastic packaging, where predominantly non-renewable fossil fuels are used for manufacturing, or even when a product is marketed as being “from recycled material”, someone else first had to use the virgin material for the first manufacturing process. In summary, the paper alternative consumes combats global warming significantly more than the plastic alternative.

With all these benefits to boxed water, it makes sense Nampak has seen a number of local businesses turn to paperboard cartons for their water packaging. However, their success in the expanding the convenience water market, and in making a difference to the planet, is largely dependent on consumer uptake. This means making more considered choices when reaching for packaged water to quench our thirst.

Quinton Swart is the Group Executive Paper and Eastern Africa, Nampak


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