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So the giant corporation BlueTriton has “aspirations”. Fine. So do a lot of people and companies. So does Ark Valley Voice. But being all-digital, we don’t fill landfills with plastic, or paper, or anything else. Even our printer cartridges are refillable. The same cannot be said for bottled water giant BlueTriton.

In an “Intercept” investigative story written earlier this week by Sharon Lerner, she outlines an ongoing litigation case involving BlueTriton (formerly Nestlé Waters North America before it was bought by the private equity firm One Rock Capital Partners in March 2021). The company has stated in a court filing that its claims of environmental sustainability for its bottled water products don’t violate the law or product claims substantiation, because they are “aspirational.”

Arrowhead brand bottled water, one of several Nestle Water (now BlueTriton) brands. Courtesy image

The company owns about one-third of the bottled water brands sold in the U.S., including Arrowhead Spring Water (pumped right in Chaffee County from their Ruby Springs pumping station under a renewed 1041 permit), Poland Spring, and other brands of water packaged in plastic. But the plastic remains of those water containers are ending up in landfills at an alarming rate, a rate Learner describes as “hundreds of millions of pounds of plastic waste per year”. It would appear to counter the company’s claims of being sustainable and environmentally friendly.

But while the company talks of plastic recycling and even markets itself as a solution to the problems of plastic waste and water, the reality, including the drawn-out review and renewal of this county’s 1041 permit for the company, reveals something a bit different.

When Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt raised the idea of creating a different, environmentally-friendly container for water — a solution that would have BlueTriton and Chaffee County leading the way in reducing plastics pollution, the company appeared dismissive of the concept, pronouncing it “economically unfeasible.”

For whom? we could ask.

It should be pointed out that plastic does not come out of the ground as plastic. Most plastic is produced as a petroleum product (read fossil fuel). The majority of plastic in use today is made from hydrocarbons – organic molecules consisting entirely of carbon and hydrogen. These hydrocarbons are of biological origin occurring within Earth’s crust, known as fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are created from the petrified, buried remains of plants and animals that existed millions of years ago.

Those fossil fuels include crude oil, natural gas, and coal. All are finite resources and during production and as plastics, all emit greenhouse gases.

There are other kinds of plastics from more eco-friendly sources that replace fossil fuels: “This plastic, known as renewable plastic or bioplastic, is created from renewable biomass such as terpenes, lignin, cellulose, vegetable fat, bacteria, wood fibers, carbohydrates, recycled food waste, etc. Biodegradable plastic doesn’t contain the potentially dangerous chemical BPA and is likely to dissolve in a couple of months. In addition, over its lifetime, bioplastic emits much less greenhouse gas compared to ordinary plastic.”

BlueTriton’s product claims of being an environmental solution were deemed “vague and hyperbolic,” by the judge in a case brought in August 2021 by the environmental group Earth Island Institute.  The environmental group said the company’s advertising was misleading, deceptive, and violated the Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA).

This journalist can tell you that the concept of claims substantiation is an accepted component of advertising and public relations, and it is deeply ingrained in packaged goods marketing. You make a claim — a promise — you provide real substantiation for that claim, or you don’t say it.  At least — that is how things have worked up until now.

BlueTriton logo

BlueTriton actually defended its marketing by announcing that everyone should realize that the claims are meaningless nonsense. Lerner documented the company’s response saying:

“Many of the statements at issue here constitute non-actionable puffery,” BlueTriton’s attorneys wrote in a motion to dismiss the case submitted to a D.C. court in March. “BlueTriton’s representation of itself as ‘a guardian of sustainable resources’ and ‘a company who, at its core, cares about water’ is vague and hyperbolic,” the attorneys continued. “Because these statements are ‘couched in aspirational terms,’ they cannot serve as the basis for Plaintiff’s CPPA claim.

Nestle/BlueTriton is just one of many major brands to make promises to rely on recycled plastic and underdeliver. It also has not been responsive to journalistic inquiries. As Lerner learned, BlueTriton does not publicly list a media contact and provides no way for reporters to ask questions. It also didn’t respond to The Intercept’s inquiry made through the BlueTriton sales department, for their article.

But the company asked the judge to dismiss the “greenwashing” suit. Its argument: “some of its brands have taken several steps that show they are genuinely sustainable.” It says that its Pure Life® brand has converted the cooling towers in its bottling plants to reuse water that was previously discharged. And the company is also “reduc[ing] the amount of plastic in our 0.5-liter  bottles by over 40 percent” and “improving our production processes to reduce the amount of water needed to make one liter of Pure Life® purified water.”

Its new owner, One Rock Capital Partners, did not respond to an inquiry from The Intercept. Nor did it respond to Ark Valley Voice’s questions during this county’s BlueTriton 1041 permit review last year either.

Plastics aren’t the only problems being experienced by BlueTriton. In California, the company has been accused of continuing to pump water from National Forest Land and has been issued a cease and desist order by the California State Water Resources Control Board. BlueTriton says that’s a misinterpretation of the law.

So, what light does this shed on the current continuation of the review and potential acceptance of the BlueTriton Annual Report by Chaffee County? That may remain to be seen.