Printed in the Clare Champion – 21st April 2010
This week, the first consignment of biodegradable and compostable bottles, the first of their kind in Ireland and produced by Clare Spring Water Limited at its €4.2 million plant, was transported to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
While Clare Spring, located on High Street, has signed a confidentiality clause with the European company concerning some aspects of the deal, the new export contract is regarded as a major coup for the company, which is less than a year in operation. Up to 84,000 biodegradable bottles can be produced by the plant daily in full production.
Management from the European airline, which prides itself on being environmentally friendly, visited Clare Spring recently and conducted a thorough examination of the water production facilities before committing to the lucrative deal.
No other bottling company in Ireland or the United Kingdom is producing water in a biodegradable bottle and there is only one other similar venture in Europe. The bottle will fully break down in a composter bin after about 80 days and will fully disintegrate in a landfill after 12 months. It can also be recycled or placed in a biodigester.
Managing director, Paul J Connellan says the “sky is the limit” when it comes to the disposing of their new environmentally friendly bottle, which has already passed a variety of tests to ensure it was sufficiently durable and flexible for the market place.
Mr Connellan admits the company’s success has exceeded all their wildest expectations. “It is crazy when you think this biodegradable bottle is going to the Netherlands before I had a chance to sell it in Limerick City. There are over 16 million people living in the Netherlands in a country the size of Munster. As a country, the people are incredibly environmentally aware. It is almost overwhelming that we had an opportunity to export this product as quickly as this.
“I thought we would start off in Clare, would work our way through Munster and would gradually extend and expand. One of the first people I had to call when we got the international order was Councillor PJ Kelly, who still doesn’t believe me,” he jokes.
Initially, Clare Spring provided natural spring water in a conventional recyclable bottle. However, Mr Connellan was never comfortable with providing high-quality fresh water in a container that wasn’t environmentally friendly.
The civil engineer contacted an American company, Natureworks in Nebraska, who used material from starch-based plants such as polymer to produce plastic forks but never managed to succeed in using it for a durable bottle.
Having designed a bottle two years ago, Mr Connellan asked the American company to conduct a number of trials and, following a few changes to the polymer and mould to make it stronger and more flexible, it passed all the subsequent tests and trials.
Clare Spring has signed a deal with Natureworks giving it exclusive rights to sell the biodegradable bottled water in Europe.
The company is developing a number of projects with the potential to increase the number of jobs by 90 over the next three years. Initially, 10 people were employed when it opened and this has now doubled to 21, including six sales representatives marketing the product in a number of counties, including Clare, Kerry, Limerick and Galway.
The source of Clare Spring Water, discovered by water diviner Councillor PJ Kelly, is an underground spring located deep in the hills near Lissycasey.
Describing Clare Spring as a major local success story, Councillor PJ Kelly said it is a remarkable achievement for a company to secure an export market for a new product, considering it was in operation less than 12 months.
The Lissycasey councillor praised the company for exceeding their own expectations and said he hoped that the raw material for the biodegradable bottle could be sourced from Irish sugar beet or potato producers, thus providing another major spin-off for the Irish economy. “The location of the plant in High Street is the most unlikely location for a major enterprise. Once you leave Lissycasey and head up the hills you enter a new world where innovation and entrepreneurial spirit is king,” he said.