An unexpected solution to the plastic pandemic is rising in popularity: canned water. Once hailed as a miracle invention to make the most essential of liquids more portable, plastic bottles are now a major liability, with more than 40 billion of them wasted each year in the U.S.
The demand for portable water isn’t going anywhere and although many proponents of a circular economy recommend purchasing reusable bottles to reduce single-use products, the idea hasn’t quite caught on yet. So more beverage companies are looking for environmentally-friendly alternatives.
Canned Water: The New Plastic?
When measuring the impact that plastic water bottles have on the environment, it’s best to start with a consideration of the production process.
In order to meet the massive demand — 50 billion plastic bottles are used every year in the U.S. — more than 17 million barrels of oil are required. Plastic production increases our reliance on fossil fuels, which is a major contributor to pollution and global warming. Further, the average water bottle is made of just three percent recycled materials.
This leads us to another issue with plastic water bottles: recycling them. Of all the plastic ever produced, only nine percent has been recycled. This has partially been due to consumers, but is also largely fueled by the economy as plastic is no longer logistically feasible to recycle.
It’s gotten so bad that some environmental economists have recommended simply throwing plastic in the trash so less transportation is required to process it all. But sadly, a lot of it ends up in the ocean. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans.
Additionally, China stopped accepting imported plastic waste from the U.S. as of January 2021. This was partially due to the trade war, but also because most of the recyclables the U.S. sent to China were too dirty to recycle and ended up in landfills.
When you consider that the average aluminum can contains over 70% recycled material, it seems like a viable solution to the plastic bottle crisis. Nearly 75% of all the aluminum ever produced is still in use today, as the material retains its properties indefinitely.
While aluminum mining does produce its own emissions, some believe that if we can get enough aluminum into a recyclable rotation, it could eventually have the same carbon footprint as glass bottles. And although aluminum cans are typically recycled into — you guessed it — more aluminum cans, there are many other applications as well including window frames, road signs, and casting of engine components for vehicles.
With canned water proving to be a reputable alternative to plastic, brands like Pepsi have begun offering their products in new containers. The problem is, consumers have been slow to catch on to drinking water in a can. Can better marketing help?
One bold company known as Liquid Death is working to shift consumer mindsets toward canned water. They’re doing it through radically imaginative marketing that is frightening to some, but hilariously entertaining to most.
“Death to Plastic”
Liquid Death is a water company on a mission to bring “death to plastic” once and for all. Its unique branding takes our most basic liquid and makes it bold and eye-grabbing, starting with skull designs on their cans of both regular and sparkling water.
Encountering a can of Liquid Death among traditional water brands at the grocery store or gas station might be a little jarring at first — but that’s the whole point. The founder and CEO of the brand, Mike Cessario, was a marketer who grew tired of playing it safe in the corporate advertising world. So he set out to build a business that would make canned water a thrilling alternative to plastic.
It all started in 2018 with a $1,500 video advertising campaign and a newly created Facebook page. Within just four months, the video ad had three million views and the page had more followers than Aquafina. By January 2019, Liquid Death made its first sale online and since then has grown into the most popular water brand on social media.
“We saw that all the unhealthy brands in the world of marketing were doing all the coolest, funniest, most irreverent marketing,” Cessario explains. “So we thought it would be interesting to take the healthiest thing you could possibly drink, which is water, and one-up the marketing of all the unhealthy stuff.”
But creative marketing isn’t the only way Cessario and Liquid Death stand out in the market. Unlike most major water bottle brands that use processed, municipal tap water, Liquid Death comes from a deep underground mountain source, protected by hundreds of feet of stone.
The methodology is simple: take the naturally alkaline water straight from its source, purify it, and then put it into air-tight cans to maintain 100% of its original mineral profile. The minerals are electrolytes that are good for the body, but they can also reportedly “murder your thirst.”
Liquid Death’s water is comparable to the price of plastic bottles, with a 12-pack of 16.9 oz tallboys selling for $14.99 on their website. The canned water has already been introduced at locations such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, and 7-Eleven, with plans to roll into more major retailers such as Target, Albertsons, and Safeway.
There are challenges that come with competing against big-name water companies, but thanks to powerful marketing, Liquid Death has been able to stay competitive thus far.
The company donates 10% of all profits to help clean up plastics from the ocean, on top of their Loving Homes For Plastic initiative which allows people to mail empty plastic bottles back to the company that produced them. Talk about sticking it to the man.
“Most people get the humor instantly,” Cessario says. (We found their sister site, Keep The Underworld Beautiful, very amusing).
The idea to go against established water brands with edgy marketing was a risk — but it’s one that’s certainly paying off for Liquid Death and could eventually have a major impact on the planet.