Evian's Water Bubble: Hit or Miss?

©. Evian (re)new

Their new (re)new system uses less plastic, but it is a bit deceptive.

There are a number of issues with bottled water, but the biggest one is probably the bottle, the amount of solid fossil fuel wrapped around the water. Now Evian, the French water company, is introducing (re)new, a 5-liter bubble full of water made of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which sits on a sort of countertop water cooler.

Fast Company's Adele Peters picks up on the plastic savings:

The bubble uses the water inside it to maintain its shape, and as the water is dispensed, the bubble progressively contracts. The design pushes “the limits of the physics of materials,” she [Patricia Oliva] says, and makes it possible for the plastic skin to be very thin; the 5-liter container uses 66% less plastic than a standard 1.5-liter Evian water bottle.
Evian on stand

© Evian (re)new

However, there is an asterisk after that statement pointing to small print on the press release that says, "*Compared, per litre of water, to a 1.5L evian® bottle (3.33 x 1.5L evian® bottles)." So it really means that the bubble uses 66 percent of the plastic that would be in 3.3 conventional bottles. Since every bottle contains more water in relation to its surface area as it gets bigger, this sounds a lot less impressive than at first glance.

evian boxes and app

© Evian (re)new

Then there is the electronics built into the base, which connects to an app on your phone and orders a new bubble of water when a refill is needed. So modern!

The introduction of this sleek in-home natural mineral water appliance is the latest move from evian® in its journey to become a circular brand by 2025 and will build on the brand's ambition to be carbon neutral by 2020.

Now we love the circular economy here at TreeHugger, the idea that nothing goes to the dump and plastic all gets recycled; and we acknowledge that some people do have a need for bottled water (although they don't in London or Paris where the Evian bubble is being launched), so we won't even talk about the question of bottle vs tap. I drink bottled water all summer when I am away from a municipal water supply.

a jug of water

A standard refillable jug among my emergency supplies/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

But there has been a pretty much universal standard of 5 gallon or 18.9 litre refillable jugs for decades. That's almost 4 Evian bubbles and it is circular without having to recycle and remanufacture a PET bubble. It's solid and hard to puncture, whereas the Evian bubble has to be shipped in a cardboard box, no doubt made from recycled cardboard. I drag my jugs to the store and refill them there from a tested source, and have been using the same ones for a decade; now that's circular.

I hate to puncture the Evian bubble, but the phrase "circular economy" is being used more and more to justify "business as usual" – we will keep packaging things in plastic, but will try to use a bit less and try to harder to recycle it. That's just not good enough anymore.