Heavy plastic bottles are making an exit at Yukon Spring to be replaced by lighter, more environmentally friendly bags.
The long-time Yukon company has been providing bulky 18.9-litre bottles for the tops of water coolers since its inception in 1988.
But that has changed. Yukon Spring is now the first water company in North America to swap out the familiar bottles for biodegradable sacks.
The decision, according to company president Paul Sheridan, was an easy one to make.
“We’re doing it because it’s greener,” he said matter-of-factly when asked to explain his motivations.
Using bags rather than plastic bottles will reduce the company’s carbon footprint by about 50 per cent, Sheridan estimates.
He called the decision part of a growing trend that has seen all types of companies moving towards more environmentally sound business models.
“There really has been a global shift towards green technology by businesses all over the world.”
The large plastic sacks, which carry nearly 11.5 litres of water, are made in part from cornstarch and are 100 per cent biodegradable.
They are also more efficient to ship.
“Frankly, when you are shipping water bottles you are shipping mostly air,” Sheridan said.
With the new product, one roll of the material Yukon Spring uses to make the single-use bags is the equivalent of about half a truckload of the bottles, he said.
Cardia Bioplastics, an Australia-based company with offices around the world, created the specially designed resin.
The company’s executive director for North America, James Beck, said the ability to use biodegradable bags over bottles is a benefit particularly for northern companies and communities far from Whitehorse.
“I think about the mining industry,” he said. “This way they don’t have to worry about shipping their empty bottles back, that is a saving.”
The bagged water-cooler system is already being used in Europe and Australia.
Since striking the deal with Yukon Spring, Beck said he’s heard from other North American companies wanting to give the product a try.
The resin is made mostly from corn and polymers mixed with specialized ingredients to help the product break down more quickly.
If kept out of the sun, a bag can last for two to three years.
When the outdoor temperature is right, it takes about three to four months to break down and another month to biodegrade completely, Beck said.
In the Yukon the process would slow in the winter when the cold temperatures cause the microorganisms to become dormant.
Sheridan believes there are benefits to the new method beyond the environmental ones.
Instead of lifting the standard 45-pound plastic bottles, costumers will now only have to handle about 25 pounds.
“It’s lighter, it’s definitely easier to handle,” he said.
The company hopes to have completely phased out the hard plastic bottles sometime around November.
So far, Sheridan said, customers have been receptive to the idea.
“They like the idea that this is green,” he said.
The company will be offering adaptors free to anyone who rents a water system from them.
The extra piece sits on top of a standard water cooler and allows the same base to be used with the new water bags.
Yukon Spring will also be selling the adaptors for $33 to anyone who owns their own cooler.
As for what to do with the obsolete plastic bottles, after more than 25 years in the industry, Sheridan knows there are no shortages of alternative uses.
His bottles have been repurposed for everything from the percussion section in a school band to backyard terrariums.
“Finding other uses for them won’t be hard,” he said.
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