Better Bottles

If the contents of U.S. landfills (and litter along roadways) are any indication, the bottled water industry is booming (see "Message in a Bottle," cover story, September/October 2003). Every day, 30 million used water bottles are tossed away as more and more Americans avoid their taps in favor of handsomely packaged plastic bottles boasting "pure" and "natural" H2O. In 2004, only 15 percent of bottled water containers were recycled.

Most plastic bottles are petroleum based and take about 1,000 years to decompose. One company, however, has a unique take on this problem. In late 2004, BIOTA began packaging its mountain spring water in a certified biodegradable plastic bottle. The bottle is made of a corn-based plastic (created by Cargill Dow) that can decompose within 80 days in a commercial composter. Making the plastic uses 20 to 50 percent less energy than petroleum-based processes. BIOTA says the bottle (so far available only in the West) requires the right conditions to decompose, and will not degrade on the shelf.