Reduce Plastic, Reduce Costs: IMPA SAVE Carton Shows Us How

Apr 17, 2023

To borrow a phrase: this is no ordinary carton of water. This is an IMPA SAVE carton of water, designed as part of a unique competition and voted for by THE IMPA SAVE COMMUNITY. Felicity Landon reports on a winning concept

It turns out that a carton of water can be a winner in more ways than one. This carton is a symbol of sustainability, representing the aspirations of IMPA’s members. It can act as a communication tool, reflecting IMPA SAVE’s identity. It has the potential to eliminate the use of many millions of plastic water bottles. And, as Mikael Karlsson, IMPA SAVE Chair and Head of Business Development at Northern Marine Group, puts it, its underlying message is one of stubborn persistence. “It is about never being happy with ‘no’ and always trying to find an alternative option.”

IMPA SAVE was created to bring together members from the industry to support sustainability initiatives and take action that supports the UN 2030 agenda. From the beginning, plastic bottles were the big target. “We realised there was a really good business case here – getting rid of plastic bottles is good for the environment and the company can actually save money,” says Karlsson. “I thought it would be easy – but it wasn’t and it isn’t.”

In 2020, the IMPA SAVE Pledge was launched, asking shipowners and operators to commit to reducing the use of plastic drinking water bottles onboard their vessels by 2025. Today, more than 40 companies are signed up to the pledge.

Last year, a suppliers’ pledge was launched, encouraging suppliers to come up with alternatives to plastic.

“So here we are today – with close to 9,000 ships committed to reduce bringing plastic water bottles on board, which equates to 200 million bottles a year,” says Karlsson. “That is enough to reach the moon – seven rows of plastic bottles all the way.”

So much more can be achieved – but the world of shipping is known for its reluctance to change. It was decided that further encouragement was needed, in the form of an official IMPA alternative. LY Company Water Group, a leading European company that specialises in sustainable solutions for bottled water, particularly in carton packaging, was asked to come up with three carton designs that used the maximum amount of renewable packaging materials, suitable to be brought and stored onboard ships instead of the ubiquitous plastic bottles.

The designs were sent to all IMPA SAVE members, who were asked to vote for their preferred option. Design number two was the winner. It contains one-fifth of the amount of plastic compared to a bottle and consists of more than 85% renewable materials (carton and bio-plastics made from sugarcane) that can be recycled, reused and rebuilt. In total, this alternative offers a reduction in CO2 emissions of more than over 50% compared to water bottles made from fossil-fuel materials.

Paolo Magonio, Group Procurement Manager at Scorpio Group and a member of the IMPA SAVE working group, says: “IMPA SAVE started with the owners’ pledge, but we did not see so much traction. It had good intentions, but many obstacles.

“A particular obstacle was suppliers perceiving that the alternatives to plastic, such as cartons, were difficult to find and expensive, and that owners would never buy them. So, we said – let’s bring suppliers on board for the second pledge, which is all about their commitment in trying to find solutions and stocking and sourcing and promoting the use of alternative packaging for water.

“However, in many locations, we checked and tried to find solutions, but these could still be five times more expensive than plastics. Hence the decision to go the extra mile and bring in the manufacturers.”

Olivia White, in charge of business development at LY Company Group, says: “One of the interesting aspects of this whole initiative has been giving IMPA SAVE its own identity through carton water. We prepared a digital dossier to be sent out to the IMPA community – visual designs in which we tried to reflect IMPA’s values through our interpretation.

“We hope this has also got the community more involved. That is why the vote was important, so as many people as possible felt they were actively participating in this unique product for the maritime community.”

The use of cartons is based on the premise that owners install fresh water filtration units for seafarers to use onboard; the packaged water is stored for emergencies rather than routine use. An added element of the project is that LY Company can update the design as needed.

“Our ability to update the design enables us to be dynamic with the project. Perhaps there will be another design in six months,” says White. “What’s important is that all our designs aim to reflect IMPA values and involve the IMPA pledgers.”

Karlsson is keen to emphasise that this is not just about ‘doing the right thing’, a virtue which is often perceived to be more expensive. This is also about the opportunity to save money.

“We recognised that you cannot just talk about problems without solutions. And the solution we found was very inexpensive compared to the cost of plastic water bottles for a year.”

A cargo ship needs an average of 18,000 litres of drinking water a year for its crew, he says. “In plastic water bottles, that costs approximately $6,000. If you put a water unit solution on board, you halve that, to about $3,000. Let’s say you need two pallets of carton water alongside this. Even though the cartons are more expensive than plastic bottles per unit, you are still saving costs overall because you are only buying the cartons as emergency stock or perhaps for visitors.

“We asked IMPA members – owners, managers, suppliers, the whole network – for their views. We had ship owners testing solutions on board. We held some webinars to present the concept and up to 400 people attended one of them.

We received a lot of feedback and basically, we just pushed forward, and we asked them to test solutions on board.”

Switching away from single-use plastics is about changing mindsets, says Magonio. “It is growing – we had another large shipowner making the pledge last week. Now that we have all the large companies on board, it’s time to persuade the smaller ones too.”

As he points out, plastic water bottles are often delivered to the quayside in pallets and can sit in full sunlight for many hours before finally being loaded on board and reaching some shade. “That exposure to light and high temperature can compromise the quality of the water, resulting in this water having a shorter lifetime. The IMPA SAVE cartons have layers which keep out the light and keep the temperature at the right level.”

LY Company has plants strategically located around the world, able to produce and fill water cartons. “We can distribute and deliver the products to the key ports and perhaps deliver to other suppliers and catering companies,” says White. “Every plant operates with the same quality procedures. We process our water in a similar way to the water units onboard – a reverse osmosis and multi-filtration process to ensure the quality and the right balance of minerals for human health. An added benefit is that our cartons have a shelf life of 24 months, so they are well suited for keeping as emergency stock on board. Once used, they can be recycled with other items.”

The first IMPA SAVE suppliers/pledgers to offer the cartons are Francois Marine Services and Seven Seas Group – and, as this magazine went to press, others were signing up to make the same decision.

Magonio describes the IMPA SAVE carton as ‘a step towards sustainability’. He explains: “It is not the perfect solution, but it is far better than what has been used. We want to move inch by inch towards a better solution. We want to do something as an industry. We can’t just sit back and say that everyone is using plastic, let’s do that until it is banned.”

Whether ship owners reject plastic and adopt sustainable water solutions today, tomorrow or next year, one thing is certain. The world is changing, plastic is becoming ‘unacceptable’ to society, and regulation is catching up fast.

“By bringing in LY Company, we have brought the solution to the suppliers and ship owners,” says Magonio. “Our message is ‘be ready’. Establish your connection with the alternative solutions, be a first adopter. Early adopters will profit more. Our solution is available, it is cheaper, it is better, it has a longer shelf life. Now that we have all the elements in place, engagement is rising.”

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