Put Down the Plastic: Elix Water Wants to Change the Way You Drink
According to the International Bottled Water Association, global bottled water consumption is estimated to have surpassed 100 billion gallons for the first time in 2018, with demand only rising in subsequent years. Elix Water is focused on accelerating the world’s transition to low carbon and renewable fiber-based packaging for drinking water, and by doing so hopes to raise awareness of existing environmental issues and inspire consumers to improve the overall environment of our planet. The AmCham China Quarterly spoke with Elix Water founder Hansen Bi about the global plastic problem, sustainable solutions, and why Chinese consumers are shifting towards sustainability.
Although he was born in the US, Hansen Bi spent his formative years between the US and China. While his main focus is on environmental stewardship, Hansen implements his passion in the sustainable sector as the Founder and CEO of Elix Water, a premium spring water brand that focuses on accelerating the world’s transition to low carbon and renewable fiber-based packaging.
Photo courtesy of Elix Water
Why water in a box? Can you talk more about the reasons for using fiber-based packaging over other sustainable materials?
Hansen Bi: Elix Water’s paper bottles are made from 75% paperboard, which is a renewable and naturally degradable raw material derived from wood. 100% of our paperboard is sourced from FSC™-certified paperboard for our bottles. This way we can avoid sourcing from endangered or illegally harvested trees. We are supporting the responsible management of the world’s forests and help to reduce the extraction of non-renewable resources by using paper-based packaging instead of fossil-based packaging.
Elix Water’s paper bottles contain 86% less plastic than the same volume of PET bottles. Compared to aluminum cans, PET bottles, and glass bottles, aseptic paper packaging produces a lower carbon footprint and has a more environmentally friendly product production cycle. Our paper bottles are also designed to maximize transportation efficiency, reducing the physical space occupied by individual packages.
About 70% of the pollution from the paper manufacturing process comes from the chemical solvents used in the bleaching process. For this reason, the paperboard used in our packaging does not go through a bleaching process, and the materials used are 100% recyclable. Each respective ton of cartons recycled can save up to 1.64 tons of oil and reduce 1.94 tons of CO2.
Despite its detrimental environmental impact, plastic use is still prevalent. When do you think we’ll see a real shift towards sustainable materials?
Hansen Bi: The disposal of plastics is a global problem. Plastic is virtually indestructible under natural conditions, and about 359 million tons of plastics are produced worldwide each year.
China is moving to address the plastic issue, and the green operation of enterprises has fast become a national consensus. In January 2020, the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment issued “Opinions on Further Strengthening Plastic Pollution Control”, which stipulates that by the end of 2020, the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags will be banned in shopping malls, supermarkets, and the catering industry, among others.
In September 2020, the General Office of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued a “Notice on Further Strengthening the Treatment of Plastic Pollution in the Business Sector”, began requiring hotels and restaurants to cease providing disposable plastic supplies without request. By the end of 2022, star-rated hotels and restaurants in China will no longer provide disposable plastic supplies. By the end of 2025, the scope of implementation will be extended to all hotels, guesthouses, and B&Bs.
We are already seeing a shift in consumer’s buying habits. It is encouraging to see an increasing awareness that the use of commercial materials will have a significant impact on energy and resource consumption. It is no longer an individual choice for companies to create a green image, but a trend that must be included in the “core values” of a modern brand identity.
According to the latest “Who Cares Who Does” global report by Kantar, the proportion of environmental supporters among consumers in China was predicated to reach 53% in 2020, an increase of 13% from 2019. I think we are already in the process of gradually shifting towards low carbon and sustainable products.
What were the driving factors behind choosing China as a base of operations?
Hansen Bi: China has a customer base of over one billion people. Respectively, the amount of packaging used for drinking water also equates as such. This can be evidenced in the sheer amount of different types of packaging used for products like bubble milk tea. Such products, when delivered, can amount to four types of packaging – namely the plastic cup, a paper wrap around the cup, an aluminum wrap for the beverage during transport, and a plastic bag to contain all of this in its entirety. Multiply this by one billion people and you can get a sense of volume – and opportunity.
We will continue to cultivate the Chinese market in the future, and we’re committed to providing Chinese consumers with environmentally friendly, healthy, and safe drinking water.
There’s been a lot of emphasis on sustainability from the Chinese government. How has that trickled down to consumers?
Hansen Bi: China announced that its aims to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The “Double Carbon” goal fully reflects China’s responsibility and commitment as an international power, and it’s also forcing China’s economy to accelerate its transformation towards high-quality development.
The reduction of carbon emissions involves all aspects of the consumer sector. Environmentally conscious consumer patterns force the production sector to reduce emissions. Importantly, the way products are disposed of directly determines impact. Effective separation of domestic waste not only improves the level of resourcefulness, but also greatly reduces the amount of incinerated waste, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The bottom line is that carbon peaking and carbon neutrality requires both producers and consumers to actively adapt and contribute.
According to Infotech Sustainability Trends 2021, consumers do take sustainability into account when purchasing Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG). When asked about their top five considerations when purchasing FMCG products, consumers indicated that they typically choose two or more sustainability-related factors when purchasing coffee, soap, or socks. These priorities tend to be related to packaging, which is often the focus of consumers, while in reality, in many instances’ resources have a much greater impact.
Consumers feel they can “make an impact,” but with limited power. For those who want to make a difference, brands have the opportunity to become partners in those choices. Consumers will buy sustainable essentials, but they are also unwilling to compromise on quality or brand familiarity in the name of sustainability. They believe that businesses bear the ultimate responsibility for recycling, shouldering the same responsibility as governments for ensuring fair working conditions and reduced emissions.
How have you navigated with supply chain issues due to COVID-19? How much have you incorporated pandemic restrictions into your mid- to long-term planning?
Hansen Bi: Supply chains are complex networks that include many participants such as procurement, production, distribution, logistics, and retail. Interruptions to production in any one link may lead to the interruption of the entire supply chain.
As a company that advocates the concept of “environmental protection and healthy” living, we joined this competitive market without smoke and mirrors, actively ensuring the supply of our customers by adjusting the focus and direction of our products. We have focused on the nationwide deployment of logistics in an effort to ensure supply despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.
The 14th Five-Year Plan marked the official implementation of the “Double Carbon” strategy, and defined the window in which China will peak emissions. In this context, we insist on combining environmental friendliness and low carbon with corporate development. Elix embraces its corporate social responsibility with green innovation and long-termism, and insists on being a green development practitioner.
For the medium and long-term business, we will adhere to the concept of green innovation. We’re committed to sparing no effort when it comes to making products more environmentally-friendly, and we will continue to focus on quality innovation to bring more quality products to consumers. Building on our existing foundation, we will set up a nationwide sales team and expand our sales channels to further promote the concept of sustainable development to second and third-tier cities in China.