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Nestlé Waters North America’s Response to House Committee on Oversight and Reform March 3 Letter

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Mar 27, 2020
Chairman Harley Rouda
Vice Chairwoman Rashida Tlaib
U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform
Subcommittee on Environment
2157 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

 

Dear Chairman Rouda and Vice Chairwoman Tlaib:

Thank you for your letter dated March 3, 2020 to Nestlé Waters North America ("NWNA"). We appreciate and share your interest in safety and sustainability in bottled water products and welcome the opportunity to address the specific concerns you have raised. NWNA has been and will remain committed to progress on these industry-wide issues.

As described more fully below, NWNA provides healthy water in various forms through safe and responsible practices that promote sustainability. NWNA is deeply committed to water stewardship, water quality and safety, and packaging that minimizes the environmental impact associated with its operations. Moreover, NWNA contributes in many ways to the local communities in which it operates. NWNA bottled water provides a lifeline to those facing disasters and other emergencies that impede access to safe drinking water, including the citizens of Flint, Michigan and victims of last year’s California wildfires. NWNA is also dedicating resources to ensure that bottled water is available where needed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has offered its full support to various state Attorneys General, including in California and Michigan, to help stamp out price gouging activities during these difficult times.

In addition to responding to your specific concerns in this letter, we will be submitting under separate cover material responsive to your document and information requests. As discussed with your staff, NWNA will be sending productions on a rolling basis.

I. NWNA is Committed to Providing Safe and Healthy Bottled Water to Consumers

NWNA sells and donates clean, easily accessible drinking water to communities across the U.S. NWNA’s safety measures include source protection and approved processes such as reverse osmosis, carbon filtration, micro-filtration, ozonation, ultraviolet (UV) light, and other measures. Bottled water is comprehensively regulated at both the federal and state level. In addition to complying with federal and state regulatory standards, NWNA exceeds those requirements to help ensure that consumers have the highest degree of confidence in their drinking water.

At the federal level, bottled water must comply with, among other laws, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.1  This Act requires that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bottled water regulations be as stringent and as protective of public health as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for public water systems. The FDA has established bottled water standards of quality (SOQ) for more than 91 substances.While most of these standards are the same as the EPA’s standards, some bottled water SOQs—including those for cyanide and lead—are more stringent than the EPA’s standards for water from public utilities. All NWNA bottled water products comply with the FDA standards.

In addition to the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) regulations applicable to all packaged food and beverage products, FDA has additional GMP regulations applicable specifically to bottled water.3 These regulations cover a broad range of topics, including source protection, source and finished water testing, buildings and facilities, equipment, and production and process controls.

NWNA’s commitment to safety extends beyond these federal requirements. NWNA is a member of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), whose Code of Practice sets quality standards for 25 substances that are more stringent than those set by the FDA.4 Additionally, NWNA and the bottled water industry have supported even stronger FDA SOQs, including successfully advocating for the FDA to lower its arsenic SOQ from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion.

NWNA recognizes the Subcommittee’s focus on the testing of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in addition to the lead and arsenic substances addressed above. NWNA already tests for PFAS compounds and publishes the results to enable full transparency, even though these measures are not required by the FDA. Moreover, NWNA supports increased regulation and advocates for FDA SOQs for PFAS.5

The Subcommittee’s letter also addresses microplastics—a relatively new scientific focus. A recent 2019 World Health Organization study concluded: “Overall, there does not seem to be any reliable information at this time that would suggest any overt health concerns associated with microplastic particles.”6 Nevertheless, NWNA welcomes further research on this topic. In coordination with the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance, NWNA supports the bipartisan Save Our Seas Act 2.0. This Act would require the EPA to work with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct a human health and environmental risk assessment on microplastics in food supplies and sources of drinking water. Moreover, NWNA’s parent is exploring working with stakeholders to develop uniform standards for measuring levels of microplastics and monitoring water quality.

II. NWNA’s Bottled Water is Responsibly and Sustainably Sourced and Packaged

NWNA understands and shares the Subcommittee’s focus on preserving natural resources, including water. NWNA recognizes its significant responsibility to operate sustainably. NWNA has an inherent interest in the longterm viability of the water sources it uses, some of which have been in continuous operation for over 100 years. NWNA dedicates significant resources to environmental stewardship and has become a leader in this field.

Efficient and Sustainable Sourcing

The bottled water industry sources a comparatively small amount of water. Bottled water production accounts for only 0.011% of all water used in the United States. In contrast, thermoelectric power and irrigation use 45% and 32% of water, respectively.7 Compared to other packaged beverages, bottled water uses the least amount of water in its production. On average, it takes approximately 1.32 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of bottled water,8 whereas it takes approximately 49 gallons of water to produce 1 cup of orange juice.9

While requirements for the withdrawal of bottled water vary from state to state, approvals typically involve a multi-level review. This can include local governments, state agencies and, in some areas, regional agencies established by federal and state governments. Local jurisdictions generally issue permits for new groundwater withdrawal facilities based on zoning ordinances and other land use considerations. Many localities have specific construction standards that are verified during and after completion of the source development.

Source approval at the state level generally addresses the quality of the water and, in most cases, specific water withdrawal limits are set, especially for aquifers that are located in-state and are already regulated by the state. States such as Pennsylvania and New York also have stringent engineering and hydrogeological standards for source development and for any treatment that will occur on-site.

Although a state may issue its own water withdrawal limits for the source, in many areas of the U.S., a larger aquifer or basin management plan is in place, and that plan usually crosses state boundaries to include entire river basins. Examples of this are the Delaware River Basin Commission and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission that co-regulate water allocation with the states located in their respective jurisdictions. In Florida, the State has been divided into regional Water Management Districts that work with the state Department of Environmental Protection to manage the state’s water resources. Water withdrawals must be approved by these Districts.

In Michigan, NWNA, as a water bottler, must obtain a water withdrawal permit if it seeks to withdraw more than 200,000 gallons per day. All other commercial water users are required to obtain such a permit only if their withdrawals exceed 2,000,000 gallons per day.10

After the initial approvals are issued, water users are then subject to annual fees, withdrawal reporting, and renewal of permits at set frequencies, such as every 5, 10 or more years, at which time the full process is once again revisited.

NWNA selects its spring water sources based on their exceptional quality and ability to be naturally replenished. After selection, NWNA monitors a variety of environmental factors, including habitat assessments, water levels, water flows, and water withdrawals, to ensure the long-term sustainability of the spring. NWNA bases its water collections on hydrologic evaluations that determine what the spring and surrounding watershed can provide and the effects of NWNA’s withdrawals. Spring sustainability is a critical element of NWNA’s values and long-term success.

NWNA has and will continue to work with local, state, regional, and federal agencies to ensure sustainable sourcing. For example, with respect to the Michigan spring referenced in the Subcommittee’s letter, NWNA voluntarily funds the monitoring, collecting, and publishing of surface and groundwater data by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS—and independent monitors—also provides data showing no evidence of material impact to water flows associated with Seven Springs in Florida.

With respect to the California drought, NWNA responsibly accessed approximately 0.008% of California’s water during this time. Moreover, in 2018, the United States Forest Service (USFS) addressed water withdrawal issues in a special use permit that sets forth specific terms for NWNA’s water use in the San Bernardino National Forest. This permit includes an Adaptive Management Plan (AMP) that protects forest resources through science-based mitigation measures. The AMP allows responsible water withdrawals consistent with the forest’s broader Land Management Plan.11

NWNA also provides significant community support throughout California, including its donation of more than 2 million bottles of water to help California residents coping with last year’s wildfires. NWNA’s community support extends throughout the communities in which it operates. Last year NWNA also gave Florida residents over 300,000 bottles of water in response to Hurricane Dorian. And, as described in detail below, NWNA has provided more than 10.5 million bottles of water to the residents of Flint, Michigan.

Beyond its commitment to regulatory compliance, NWNA is a member of the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), a global collaboration of NGOs, businesses, public sector offices, and environmental groups focused on promoting water sustainability.12 AWS has independently developed standards in collaboration with public sector contributors and prominent environmental conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy.

As part of the AWS certification process, a number of factors within the NWNA catchments are evaluated such as assessments of water sources and the health of important water-related areas. The process includes collecting site-specific information at NWNA’s spring source (such as water balance and quality) and assessing incoming and outgoing water quality at the facilities. To evaluate NWNA’s water stewardship, AWS identifies and interviews community stakeholders within the particular watershed to understand their perspectives. These data points provide a holistic profile of the factory and spring operations and the environment in which it operates.13 So far, AWS has certified 10 of NWNA’s 23 U.S. bottling facilities, including all of its bottling facilities in California and Michigan, and NWNA was the first company to achieve AWS Gold Certification in the U.S.14 NWNA is committed to meeting AWS certification standards at all of its U.S. sites by 2025.

NWNA secures rights to water sources from municipal utilities or private wells, following all established regulatory processes, laws and regulations. When NWNA buys water from public suppliers, it pays the market rates established by the public water authority just like any other business customer. When NWNA uses wells to obtain spring water, it abides by longstanding and broadly applied cost structures: it pays permitting and licensing fees, taxes, and the costs of infrastructure needed to serve operations, which often exceeds $40 million per facility location.15 Beyond these standard expenses, NWNA makes significant investments to ensure the convenience, taste, safety, sustainability and quality of its products. NWNA also pays the costs of source selection, land management, natural resource monitoring, bottling, packaging, quality control, transport, distribution and environmental stewardship.

Responsible Use of Lightweight Packaging

In January 2020, NWNA’s parent announced that it will invest approximately $2.1 billion to lead the shift from virgin plastics to food-grade recycled plastics, and to accelerate the development of innovative sustainable packaging solutions. NWNA is addressing the issue of single-use plastics through initiatives that enable water bottles to be captured, recycled, and reused again and again. NWNA dedicates resources to keep plastic out of landfills and the environment.

Most of NWNA’s packages are made from a safe, 100% recyclable material called “PET,” which is BPA-free and has a lighter environmental impact than other packaging materials like glass or aluminum. NWNA has led the bottled water industry’s efforts to light-weight its packaging in order to use less plastic, which in turn reduces energy use and waste. Since 1995, NWNA has saved over 5 billion pounds of plastic and reduced CO2 emissions by 770,000 tons because of these efforts.

Beyond reducing the amount of packaging it uses in the first place, NWNA has made, and continues to make, significant investments in the “circular economy”—that is, repurposing waste as raw material for the next round of production. For example, NWNA has committed to achieving twenty-five percent recycled content across its U.S. portfolio by 2021 and fifty percent by 2025. This includes a goal of transitioning the Poland Spring® brand still water products to 100% post-consumer recycled content by 2022—which will make it the first major U.S. bottled water brand to do so. NWNA currently uses 50% recycled PET (rPET) in all of its single-serve bottles of Arrowhead Brand Mountain Spring Water® and Nestlé Pure Life Purified Water® produced in California making it consistently one of the two leading users of recycled content in beverage containers in the state.16

NWNA has also supported public policies aimed at reducing waste, strengthening the nation’s collection and recycling infrastructure, and stimulating end markets for recycled materials.17 For example, NWNA has invested $6 million in Closed Loop Fund.

Commitment to Addressing Climate Change

Climate change is a global challenge that NWNA is committed to help solve. In September 2019, NWNA’s parent announced a commitment to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050—embracing the most ambitious aim of the Paris Agreement. NWNA has also taken significant steps toward its goal of procuring 100% of its electricity from renewable sources. For example, in 2018, NWNA successfully transitioned its Sacramento facility to 100% renewable energy. In Texas, NWNA entered into an agreement with a local wind farm to power over 50% of its manufacturing and distribution facilities.

Moreover, NWNA’s direct-to-consumer beverage delivery service in the United States, “ReadyRefresh,” has achieved carbon neutrality and earned the CarbonNeutral company certification for 2020 in accordance with The CarbonNeutral Protocol. Its initiatives include using electric and propane powered vehicles, optimizing delivery routes, and using rail transportation. Further, recognizing that the food and beverage industry must work together to address shared challenges, NWNA has collaborated with other companies to support policies—including a carbon pricing system—that drive down greenhouse gas emissions across the entire economy.

III. NWNA is Helping Local Communities to Thrive and Become Resilient

NWNA recognizes that, as a company, it is intrinsically linked to the local communities in which it operates—and with whom it shares water resources. NWNA supports local communities through charitable initiatives and economic contributions. NWNA’s charitable outreach includes water donations to first responders, food banks, and those facing natural disasters and other emergencies. NWNA’s economic contributions also include its 7,000 good jobs, tax payments and investments in community projects. For example, NWNA invested $1.5 million to evaluate and help provide a new city well in Osceola County, Michigan that is used solely by the community. In fact, since 2002, NWNA has made capital investments totaling more than $267 million and contributed $427 million to Michigan’s economy. In addition to employing approximately 280 people in Michigan, NWNA and its Nestlé affiliates also purchase $51 million of goods and services each year from Michigan vendors.

For the past 5 years, NWNA has leveraged its extraction investments to give over 10.5 million bottles of water to the people of Flint, Michigan. NWNA has provided safe, clean drinking water to more than 10,000 public school students in Flint18 and created a mobile hydration station to ensure these students had access to clean, safe drinking water during the summer recess.19 After the governor of Michigan announced that the state would stop providing free bottled water to the residents of Flint, NWNA immediately began working with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to provide weekly bottled water deliveries to three help centers.20 While other donors have come and gone since the lead crisis began, NWNA continues to donate approximately 100,000 bottles of water to Flint per week.

Bottled water provides a safety net for a critical need—potable drinking water. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NWNA continues to provide water donations to those in need, including first responders and food banks. Additionally, NWNA continues to donate water to blood services operations for those who need to remain hydrated after donating blood as the Red Cross works to increase the blood supply.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback in response to your questions. We look forward to continuing to cooperate on this matter.

Sincerely,

Charles Broll
Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary
Nestlé Waters North America Inc.

cc: The Honorable James Comer, Ranking Member

 

1 21 U.S.C. § 301 et seq.
2 See 21 C.F.R. § 165.110(b).
3 21 C.F.R. Part 129.
4https://www.bottledwater.org/public/IBWA%20MODEL%20CODE%202016%20Rev%2002% 202016.pdf#overlay-context=education/codes-of-practice.
5 https://www.bottledwater.org/pfas.
6https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/326499/9789241516198-eng.pdf?ua=1.
7 See https://www.bottledwater.org/water-use.
8https://www.bottledwater.org/water-use (converted from liters to gallons).
9https://www.watereducation.org/post/food-facts-how-much-water-does-it-take-produce.
10https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/What_is_a_Section_17_Permit_557541_7.pdf.
11 https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/sbnf/news-events/?cid=FSEPRD585224.
12 See generally https://a4ws.org/.
13https://a4ws.org/about/.
14 See https://www.nestle-watersna.com/en/nestle-water-news/pressreleases/nwna-achieves-gold-standard-water-stewardship-certification.
15 See, e.g., https://www.scnow.com/messenger/nestl-waters-to-invest-million-in-chesterfield-county-create-/article_5c374ef2-6c1a-11e4-9aa3-db74b5267b2c.html.
16https://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/bevcontainer/bevdistman/plasticrpt.
17 See, e.g., http://www.courant.com/opinion/op-ed/hc-op-broll-recycling-bottle-bill-0721-20190721-fywpk73rmjfd3pb2ya6qalwtpe-story.html; https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nestle-waters-north-america-applauds-california-legislature-for-passing-new-recycled-content-law-300920042.html; and https://www.wastedive.com/news/nestle-waters-maine-plastics-bottle-recycled-content/570994/.
18 https://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2016/01/26/walmart-pepsi-coca-cola-nestle-donate-6-5m-bottles-of-water-to-flint-mich-students/.
19 https://www.cityofflint.com/2018/07/06/mayor-weaver-announces-summer-hydration-stations/.
20 https://www.cityofflint.com/2018/05/10/mayor-weaver-announces-bottled-water-donation-from-nestle/.

 

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