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Brianne West (Photo: Supplied)
Brianne West (Photo: Supplied)

ScienceMay 10, 2024

The plastic-heavy drinks industry is in for a shake-up

Brianne West (Photo: Supplied)
Brianne West (Photo: Supplied)

The New Zealand entrepreneur behind beauty business Ethique is gearing up to launch a new eco-venture.

This is an excerpt from our weekly environmental newsletter Future Proof. Sign up here.

Our thirst for a tasty bevvy is insatiable, but it comes with a hefty plastic price for the planet: 580 billion plastic bottles every year. Drinks giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi were the number one and two brands with the biggest share of identifiably branded plastic waste, according to a recent global study.

“This industry needs to change,” says Brianne West, founder of the multi-million-dollar sustainable beauty business Ethique. “I just think it’s a disgrace. They keep backing down from all these promises they’re going to make and in the meantime, they’re coating the planet in plastic. They are selling us our own water, flavoured with sugar and colourings. I mean, the whole thing is just bonkers.”

Imagine if, instead of buying a bottle of fizzy drink or cracking open a can, you could simply dissolve a tab in a glass of water and, voilà, have a glass of cola or blackcurrant or whatever delicious thirst quencher you fancy. This is West’s solution to an industry drowning in plastic: flavoured drink tablets in plastic-free packaging. “It’s like a bath bomb for your drink, except that it tastes delicious,” she explains.

Dubbed Incrediballs, the tablets will be a more sustainable option in a number of ways, according to West. First, compostable packaging cuts out fossil-fuel-derived plastic bottles. Second, you’re not shipping around truckloads of water, so you’re cutting down on transport emissions. You can get 100 times more Incrediballs into a container than you can equivalent bottled drinks. Incrediballs will also use food waste wherever possible, for example in citrus extracts, and all ingredients will be natural.

Incrediballs are being developed at a lab in the UK, but West says the goal is to eventually manufacture onshore in New Zealand. Nonetheless, the extra transport miles don’t add much in terms of carbon emissions when compared to a bottled drink.

After “a lot of technical food science”, Incrediballs are looking to launch in a few months’ time, initially with five or six flavours. Last week, West staged a taste testing event in Christchurch, which revealed both “clear favourites” and “some things we need to tweak”. Further down the track, she aims to produce a functional range with calming and energy formulations, and a cocktail range. “They taste great. We don’t just want to make slightly flavoured water. We want to make really impactful delicious drinks that you want to drink over and over again.”

“This is quite a heavy topic we’re tackling,” West says, “but the way we want to do it is fun. Because at the end of the day, we want to make people feel good about making a choice that genuinely has less impact on the planet than their alternative.”

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