Why now is the time to be “Getting To Zero”

It is the first project being born under IMPA SAVE’s umbrella and it aims to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic drinking water bottles purchased for the world’s fleet. Why did the IMPA SAVE Council choose this as the first SAVE goal?

Our industry’s adverse impact on the environment when it comes to the amount of plastic bottles that are used every day by crews all over the world is colossal… but the solution to this is – in the majority of cases – a lot simpler than you might think.

WHY do we need to start reducing the use of plastic drinking water bottles onboard our vessels?

Let us put the issue into perspective. Every year, an average vessel of 22 crew members consumes close to 18 tons of drinking water. With an estimated 55,000 vessels on our planet, this equates to almost one billion litres of water delivered onboard, 40 tons of waste bottles with 82,000 cardboard boxes and a CO2 footprint including one million water pallets supplied globally. Need more convincing?

“Just picture a bridge five feet wide made of plastic drinking water bottles; our industry’s annual consumption would reach all the way to the moon. If that’s not enough, then consider the impact on the environment of the delivery of the bottles, the packaging and the CO2”, says Mikael Karlsson, Head of Sales at Francois Marine, Chair of SAVE and IMPA Special Ambassador.

So is plastic in itself all that bad? Yes and no; like with many other things, the conversation is a bit more nuanced. There is a variety of factors that can be blamed for the effects that plastics have on the environment, including our inability of closing the loop on plastic, the efficiency of sorting and recycling facilities or lack thereof, consumer confusion, and so on. However, manufacturing plastic bottles does involve the extraction of raw materials from the environment and copious amounts of energy throughout their life cycles, in addition to the fact that they often cannot be recycled more than two or three times.

Manufacturing and Distribution of Plastic Bottles

The standard plastic bottle requires copious amounts of resources to be manufactured. From the extraction of raw materials from the environment to its shaping in the oil refineries, filling, wrapping and distributing, an average one-litre PET plastic water bottle can be responsible for the use of 250ml of crude oil, 3 litres of water and 330 grams of CO2 emissions. Think about the impact of driving your car for 3 to 4 kilometres; that is often the environmental footprint of one average PET bottle. Now multiply this number by 1 billion, which is our industry’s annual consumption of bottled water. This is difficult, terrifying math!

Less than 50% is recycled

Whether it is due to consumer confusion, business responsibility or lack thereof, not enough recycling centres or management difficulties, the fact remains that less than half of the world’s plastic bottles are recycled. Unfortunately, even where plastic continues to be kept in use through recycling, it can only be recycled two to three times, as the polymer chain grows shorter and the structure’s quality decreases with each recycling bout. A big problem that means there is no way yet to close the loop on plastic!

More than 3% ends up in the ocean

Incorrect disposal of plastic water bottles may mean that they end up floating on trickles that reach streams that flow into rivers eventually reaching the ocean. Once in the water, bottles are slowly broken down by the sun’s radiation, ocean waves and salt, in what we call secondary microplastics; these like to stick to waterborne chemicals and can be fatal to marine life when ingested or contaminate the very fish we put on our plates. Caps are harder to break down and very easy to be ingested by animals, with the latter confusing these for food. Beach cleaning activities found more than 20 million caps washed ashore in the last three decades alone. Just picture five trillion plastic pieces afloat in our ocean; this is what scientists estimate to be the number today.

The rest ends up in landfill

Between 400 and 1000 years; this is how long it takes for a plastic bottle to naturally decompose. And there is no point in arguing that this number is not significant on a geological timescale, as there are no real signs of a reduction in plastic use and this impacts other systems and their functions. How? While most countries have environmental regulations for landfill management, the comprehensiveness of each differs significantly. In many less developed countries, as plastic bottles sit in the landfill, rainwater absorbs some of the toxic water-soluble compounds they contain, forming a harmful substance that can move into groundwater, soil and streams, poisoning ecosystems and harming wildlife.

HOW can we solve this challenge?

The IMPA SAVE Council has been working to explore alternatives to plastic drinking water bottles that are not only planet-friendly, but also budget-friendly in that they have a quick return on investment (ROI). And the results of the findings may well surprise you. We often talk about “the six Rs of sustainable living”, that is firstly trying to rethink or re-design the way we do things, then refusing if we cannot re-design, reducing if we cannot refuse, reusing where we cannot reduce, repairing when damage arises and recycling as a last resort. How come, when it comes to the way in which our crews can drink water, have we automatically jumped to step six without considering the previous five?

The 6 Rs if sustainable living: Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle.

Within SAVE’s first goal, this is exactly what the team has done; they have rethought how we do things and found two of the suppliers that have already reinvented a way which allows us to reinvent ours. So what is the proposed alternative? It is simple; assuming vessels have functioning Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems or Evaporators onboard, all that is needed is an additional investment in a filtration system that makes the water drinkable. That is it; once the system is in place, “plastic water bottles could well be a thing of the past”, as Marinos Kokkinis, General Manager at Oceanic Catering tells us.

So with the aim of bridging the gap between sustainable solutions and our industry, and to tell our industry peers that they too can question their ways and redesign them, the IMPA SAVE team organised on the morning of 7th July 2020 the first IMPA SAVE online webinar, during which an esteemed panel of two solution providers joined the team, together with representatives of the SAVE Council, for a live Q&A session investigating their solutions to the current global plastic waste crisis. More than 100 industry professionals were all ears to the many questions posed by council members and attendees, and the encouraging answers given by Mark Knoester, Sales Manager ‘Trade’ at Hatenboer-Water BV, and Mark Hadfield, CEO of Flow Water Technologies Ltd., both of whom have proven, tried and tested solutions in this field.

  • How do these filtration systems work and how has the concept been developed?
  • Maintenance work? Regular testing?
  • Is there a need for classification or registration upon installing?
  • How do you deal with the shift in culture for the crew?
  • What is the ROI on these systems?

All about contributing to a healthier ocean, the panel was enthusiastic and honest about the need to make a change, answering all our questions and more. The panel invited attendees to follow up with more questions and get in touch to kickstart an all-important change; in the words of Mark Hadfield, “we have one planet and two solutions here; talk to us”.

Watch the recording below or visit The Battle Against Plastic: What Are The Alternatives? to read the full transcript.

WHAT can we do about this?

The team has made a conscious choice to amplify the voices of providers of sustainable solutions in order to help you decide to make a change. We are committing officially to making this change within our organisations and report periodically on our progress, with a view that by 2025, we will have achieved a significant reduction in the amount of plastic drinking water bottles delivered to our fleet. However, we are only a handful of companies and we need ALL hands on deck to make a big impact. We need you to join our movement too and make your pledge.

“I urge each one of you to pledge and act on today’s issue, our call to action and influence our own companies and industry players that are missing today’s call. Please engage online, ask questions, be curious, act and care, and really, do it because you can – that is my pledge to you all.” (Mikael Karlsson, Head of Sales at Francois Marine, Chair of SAVE and IMPA Special Ambassador)

The health of our industry and that of our oceans are interlinked. We need to do better. Commit to reducing the use of plastic drinking water bottles onboard vessels by 2025. oin our list of game changers. Visit www.impasave.org/make-a-pledge and make your pledge. Now is the time.


Erin McCormick et al., “Where does your plastic go? Global investigation reveals America’s dirty secret” (The Guardian, 17 June 2019), available at: www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/17/recycled-plastic-america-global-crisis

Clear on Plastic, “Brands, retailers and plastic producers aren’t doing enough, only paying lip service to the problem”, available at https://clearonplastics.com/brands-retailers-and-plastic-producers-arent-doing-enough-only-paying-lip-service-to-the-problem/

Laura Parker, “How the plastic bottle went from convenience to curse” (National Geographic, 27 August 2019), available at www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/environment-and-conservation/2019/08/how-plastic-bottle-went-miracle-container-despised-villain

Eric Onstad, “Plastic bottles vs. aluminum cans: who’ll win the global water fight?” (Reuters, 17 October 2019), available at: www.reuters.com/article/us-environment-plastic-aluminium-insight-idUSKBN1WW0J5

Hannah Ritchie, “How Much of Global Plastic is Recycled?” (Our World in Data, 02 September 2018), available at: https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics#how-much-of-global-plastic-is-recycled

Thomas Andrew Gustafson, “How Much Water Actually Goes Into Making A Bottle Of Water?” (NPR, 30 October 2013), available at www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/10/28/241419373/how-much-water-actually-goes-into-making-a-bottle-of-water?t=1594972921480&t=1596192262053

Marie-Luise Blue, “What Is the Carbon Footprint of a Plastic Bottle?” (Sciencing, 11 June 2018), available at: https://sciencing.com/carbon-footprint-plastic-bottle-12307187.html

Peter Gleick and Heather Cooley, “Energy Implications of Bottled Water” (Pacific Institute, February 2009), available at: https://pacinst.org/publication/energy-implications-of-bottled-water/