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Bottle Up co-founder: “We need governments to set new rules” to boost reusables and bioplastics

#Bottle Up co-founder: “We need governments to set new rules” to boost reusables and bioplastics

19 Jan 2024 — Netherlands-based start-up Botte Up, seeking to replace single-use plastic bottles with reusable bioplastic alternatives, is battling cost competition from traditional fossil-based packaging, shifting international legislation and consumer perceptions. We speak to the company’s co-founder to learn more.

Bart Willems tells Packaging Insights that he and his two business partners began the venture after being “shocked to see that for such a long time, there was a lack of packaging innovation in the single-use bottled water category.”

“At the same time, the number of people starting to resist bottled water in single-use packaging was growing very fast,” he says.

The team then decided to create a solution fulfilling the rapidly changing demands of material sourcing, branding and design to cater to what they see as the future of beverage bottling, in which single-use petroleum plastics are eliminated entirely.

“We thought it was about time to create an alternative for people on the road looking for a more sustainable refreshment,” says Willems.

Bottle Up provides 500 mL of locally sourced spring water in a reusable bottle made from plant-based material (bioplastic derived from sugar cane). The bottles have a unique design in various colors, with the aim to encourage people to reuse the bottle, according to the company.

Bottle Up uses Brazilian sugar cane in place of fossil-based plastics.With each bottle sold, 100 liters of clean drinking water are donated to water projects worldwide. The RRP is €3.49 (~US$3.80). Bottle Up is available in the UK and The Netherlands at major retailers and airports throughout Europe.

Brazilian sugar cane
The raw material used in Bottle Up’s bottles is a bioplastic resin derived from sugar cane. Contrary to fossil-based oil, sugar cane is a renewable source, and while it grows, it abstracts CO2 from the air, more than is being emitted during bottle production, notes Willems.

“The sugar cane used for Bottle Up is from Brazil. The bottle and cap are made from 100% of this type of bioplastic,” he explains.

Like other companies seeking to replace chemical materials with bio-based alternatives, Bottle Up faces cost competition challenges.

“The material we use is almost twice as expensive as standard oil-based plastic, which makes it challenging to compete with most other bottled water brands that use the much cheaper oil-based materials,” Willems says.

“Although Bottle Up has some extra value for which buyers and consumers are willing to pay, this is not unlimited. People want to become greener, but only as long as it doesn’t cost too much.”

Legislation to the rescue?
Willems says the packaging market will not change itself as quickly as required to jump hurdles like cost competitiveness.

“We need governments to set new rules. Think, for example, of a single-use plastic tax, but also educating buyers and consumers with LCAs; they should be aware of the negative impact of certain materials.”

“Another problem is differences in legislation throughout Europe, and the fact that this is changing fast, we constantly need to adjust our production process. For example, in the Netherlands, we will be required to have tethered caps on the bottles from July 1. This doesn’t go for other countries where we sell. So, each country has its own interpretation of EU rules. It’s challenging to adapt all of these different legislations.”

Bottle Up started distributing in 2019, several months before the outbreak of COVID-19. Willems says it faced a challenging time for two years like many other companies. But in mid-2022, the business got back on track, and now large retailers like Albert Heijn are using their products.

“We still have the feeling that we only just started. Revenue is growing but so are the costs, with investments in marketing and machines which is very costly. Luckily, we are able to pay ourselves a salary,” continues Willems.

“We are planning to launch a new bottle in 2024. We can’t share too much at the moment, but it will be a bottle for a new audience and something that no one has ever seen before.”

By Louis Gore-Langton

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