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"What's in Your Bottle?"

August 8, 2007


Why leave bottled water to Trump or Evian? Bob Scott’s idea about bottling “Croton Water” is worth a closer look. Another neighbor suggested that we could bottle “Croton Clearwater” with proceeds benefiting both Village and a key environmental group, such as Clearwater.

Croton-Clearwater-Bottle.jpgIf Paul Newman can do this for salad dressing and Ben and Jerry for ice cream, why can’t we create profit-for-non-profits by bottling our very good drinking water.

The carbon footprint of imported water is an environmental disaster. Many bottled waters now on the market are pumped from municipal water sources in Europe and beyond. Many waters, whether from public or private wells, make trans-oceanic voyages to reach our lips.

One popular brand comes from the Pacific island of Fiji—over 8,000 miles away! Think of all the barrels of oil consumed fueling the ocean voyage for those water bottles from Fiji to Long Beach and their tractor trailer trip from Long Beach to New York. Crazy!

What about Croton’s water?

A year or two ago, the Croton Historical Society presented the Village Board and SummerFest attendees with plastic bottles of Croton water sporting a neat label featuring the Croton Dam: New Croton Dam Centennial bottled spring water for $14.40 a case!

Croton’s water was ranked number 1 in the County’s 2006 annual taste test. The village’s water foreman, Tom Brann, tells me our Croton Gorge aquifer water ranks quite frequently among the tops in the county for taste and quality.

The annual water quality report card for our village’s tap water shows we pass with colors flying. See the Village website for the annual water quality reports.

For starters, let’s assume we have enough water in our great aquifer to supply both our existing customers and new bottling operation. Water use data, as illustrated below, for the village’s wellfields are tracked by our village engineer, Dan O’Connor, and the Water Department.

The Village of Croton-on-Hudson water usage data for 2006. Click to enlarge in a new window.

Let’s also assume the village’s bottler would be a private-public partnership in which the village teams up with an entity that would do the bottling. The village would supply the water to someone who already knew how to bottle and distribute it.

Let’s assume that this bottler-village team would meet any applicable New York State or county regulations. To gently put our toe in the marketing, sales and distribution waters, let’s postulate that such a venture might be launched in a test as a special event beverage at the outset.

A regional, specialty brand of bottled water might get some positive media attention, even in this fiercely competitive, yet growing ‘bottled water’ market—if it had a sales handle.

Let’s assume that all this can be arranged with a local bottling facility while still leaving a few pennies of ‘profit’ for the public sector source, i.e. the Village, and a suitable non-profit branding partner, such as Clearwater.

What kind of bottle would contain our Croton Clearwater?

Type #1 and Type # 2 polyethylene plastics are widely used by beverage companies and are recycled locally. The other 5 kinds of plastics are not recommended for beverages. Of course, any plastic that is recycled degrades to a lower quality plastic, as in the proverbial milk bottles being reincarnated as a lowly park bench. Yet, knowledgeable environmental consumer groups warn, “Avoid plastic bottled water, if possible.”

What about corn-based bioplastics?

Croton Clearwater could go green by using bottles made from polymerized lactic acid (PLA). PLA is a bioplastic synthesized from corn, soy, sugar cane, and other crops and currently manufactured in Nebraska by Cargill’s Nature Works division. PLA costs less energy to produce than petroleum-based plastics. PLA breaks down with exposure to light and heat within 90 days. Containers made from PLA are compostable and can be recycled in your garden. Hence, PLA bottles would not enter the municipal waste stream.

Most mainstream recyclers are not yet able to accept PLA. So lots of PLA is now ending up buried in landfills, where it lacks heat and light needed to decompose. Not yet enough PLA containers are in circulation yet to justify a separate waste stream handling process. But that will change as more bioplastic bottles enter the market.

Happily, a Colorado firm, BIOTA, has already launched the world’s “first bottled water/beverage packaged in a commercially compostable plastic bottle.” BIOTA has a great marketing spin. “BIOTA is a PLAnet friendly company. Together, we can make a difference. One bottle at a time.” We could adopt a similar spin for our Hudson Valley version: “Better water in a better bottle.”

Ron Aja, director of the annual popular Clearwater Festival held each June at Croton Point Park says that Clearwater does sell lots of bottled water at the festival. They purchase it for $0.26 per bottle wholesale and sell it retail for $1.00 at the Festival. A locally bottled water in a biodegradable bottle would be a much better fit with the Clearwater mission and its annual renewable energy powered music festival with its 25,000 plus attendees. Clearwater has an active Sustainable Watershed mission.

A future Clearwater Festival might make a perfect launch platform for such a local product as Croton Clearwater. Once we figure out to how bottle water, we might go on bottle stronger refreshments with a higher retail price that we’d serve in mugs or stemware with a nice dinner overlooking our beautiful waterfront.

Maybe we have a Sturgeon Lager or Striped Bass Ale from the Croton Clearwater Microbrewery & Bottling Cooperative in our future?

Disclaimer (just so I stay out of hot water!): I have not run this idea past anyone at Clearwater or the Village of Croton-on-Hudson. So the ideas in this essay serve as hypothetical examples only. In other words, the ideas expressed here have no official approval or endorsement from anyone or any organization. Also, the hypothetical Croton Clearwater in the accompanying photo mock up does NOT show an actual bioplastic bottle. I could not find a suitable PLA bottle image. If you do know of such large PLA containers, let me know!

Leo Wiegman

Editor’s Note: The author is a former Village of Croton-on-Hudson Trustee who served three terms from 2001 to 2007.

On August 13, 2007 5:48 PM, TeaDrinker said:

Thank you, Leo, for the nod you gave to my suggestion of a long time ago that Croton explore the possibilities inherent in the name “Croton Water,” which became almost world famous after it started flowing in 1842.

I actually raised two possible courses of action: (1) that Croton explore bottling its water itself with the attendant risks of quality control and liability or (2) that it consider licensing the name to one of the big bottling companies, such as Coke, Pepsi or Nestle. When bottlers like these buy municipal water, as they do in Memphis or Little Rock, they always filter it and purify it anyway, so lowering the water table in the village’s well fields needn’t be a problem. A bottler could build a plant, drop a pipe in the Croton River above Silver Lake, and it would still be “Croton Water,” perhaps even purer than our own naturally filtered water. Being a licensing situation, the second course also has the advantage of avoiding the criticism of the station parking lot that government should not be using taxpayer money to compete with private industry.

It also has the additional advantage of not exposing local government to the risk of periods of drought and low water. No matter what course Croton follows, it should have taken the inexpensive steps to register the name and any close combinations to prevent their being usurped. The closest potentially large market, portions of New York City, would be lost because residents have almost the same water flowing from their faucets. Focus groups could determine whether adding the Clearwater name and sharing the profits or licensing fees would increase sales and income.


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