A Bitter Taste from Water Bottles

My wife and daughter used to love SIGG water bottles. They loved the colors and patterns, they loved the reusability, and most of all they loved that they were free of bisphenol-A.

Or so they thought.

Last night over dinner with a large group of family and friends, my wife exclaimed, “I am never buying another SIGG. The CEO lied to us. And then he made me pay postage on top of everything!!!”

In a single act of non-transparency, SIGG turned a loyal customer into an evangelist against the company. How could this have happened?

The back story to all of this is that SIGG had been marketing itself as an alternative to water bottles – and in particular Nalgene bottles – that were found to leach bisphenol-A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor that has been linked to a range of human health and environmental problems. My wife – and hundreds of thousands of others – switched to SIGG bottles over the last few years to avoid BPA and disposable water bottles.

But. And this is a very big but. It turns out SIGG bottles actually did contain BPA in the liner of the bottle. The company surely knew that people were choosing their product because of the misperception that their bottles were BPA-free. In fact, they knew some retailers were actually marketing SIGG products as BPA-free. And they did nothing to clarify this misperception.

The CEO says he did not lie. What he said was SIGG bottles “were free from leaching” BPA, not that they were BPA-free. However, the CEO now admits that he is ”sorry that we did not make our communications on the original SIGG liner more clear from the very beginning.

SIGG sold many, many bottles based on people wanting to avoid BPA. Essentially, SIGG profited from a lack of transparency and from intentionally NOT making things “more clear.” They asserted to reporters that they could not disclose the chemical makeup of their liners because they were a trade secret. What peopled really wanted to know was whether they contained BPA (not their secret formula). On this question, SIGG was intentionally unclear on whether their bottle liners contained BPA, leaving many consumers feeling deceived.

SIGG may soon pay the cost of their non-transparency. First, they are offering a voluntarily exchange of bottles with BPA liners. (To know whether your SIGG bottle has the BPA liner, check here.) But more importantly, SIGG asked the public to trust them and their bottles, and they have clearly lost that trust.

Patagonia, one of the most trusted brands in the world – ended their relationship with SIGG this past week because they felt they were deceived as well.

This controversy is by no means over with SIGG. The liners in most of our canned foods also contain BPA. To date, the canned food industry has chosen to be even less transparent than SIGG. Some firms have argued there is no alternative to BPA in liners, some say there is no risk, and some are simply trying to greenwash their customers. But they aren’t going to be able to hide behind non-transparency for long.

Interestingly, I was at the Grocery Manufacturers Association meetings a few weeks back and I met with one of the largest packaging companies in the US. When I asked about the BPA controversy, a woman from the company said it had been “No problem” to develop BPA-free children’s food containers. Firms are going to be releasing and marketing these cans very soon.

So firms in the canned food industry may want to watch and learn from the lessons from SIGG… or prepare to face the wrath of my wife.

The new SIGG bottle liner. Source: SIGG

About Dara O'Rourke

Associate Professor at UC Berkeley and Co-Founder of GoodGuide.
This entry was posted in Home and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to A Bitter Taste from Water Bottles

  1. Elizabeth says:

    EcoUsable came out with a release today with stainless water bottle alternatives. They are also offering 20% off their stainless bottles. I’d rather spend money there than on postage for a new Sigg!

  2. Robby Roiter says:

    Eden Foods claims their canned beans use a can w/ an enamel lining… anyone know the reality behind this & whether it’s non-toxic?

  3. Lance Brothers says:

    Thanks for sharing this information! Several years back we purchased a Rainsoft water filtration system based on the alarming facts shared by the sales representative when we had our first child. I can honestly say that the water tastes better but does it really filter out the harmful contaminants? It’s hard to say without an independent analysis. It would probably blow our minds what we’re really drinking which may be a large contributor to the proliferation of cancer in this country.

  4. Mark Sofman says:

    Another case of inter-material competition where a seemingly opportune moment to increase market share at a competitor’s expense leads another short-term thinker down the path of folly.

  5. Linda says:

    Why do they even need liners? I have several metal bottles that don’t seem to have liners.

  6. Nick says:

    I use glass wine bottles.

    Heavier yes but taste is great and I don’t have to worry about "secret formulas."

  7. Nicole says:

    You may want to try some of the new water bottles made from Titan. Don’t be fooled by the No. 7. That means that the plastic doesn’t fit in the other categories, so not all of them are polycarbonate. Tritan plastic is rated as No. 7, but it doesn’t contain BPA. There are lots of these reusable water bottles on the market today. Some that come to mind are Camelbak, Kor One, Thermos, and many others.

  8. Cheryl Long says:

    I have always felt that as consumers, we should refuse to buy any product if the manufacturer refuses to tell us exactly what all it contains. This "secret ingredients" line should be seen as baloney!

  9. KN says:

    I believe that SIGG bottles need liners because they are made from aluminum, whereas others are made of stainless steel. My kids are so disappointed that we tossed their SIGG bottles b/c they were so cute and the sport-tops were so convenient. But I noticed that the liners were peeling off around the mouth even before the BPA controversy, and I was worried about the aluminum exposure. (Our family drinks a lot of water. We had 6 SIGGs of various sizes that were constantly in use.) I was going to replace them with the new, "safer" lined ones through the free replacement program, but in the end I went with different brands completely. I am so done with SIGG!

  10. amy says:

    Glass is definitely the way to go. As long as the colored glass (if your using a colored bottle) is truly colored glass and not painted. The taste is much better and you don’t have to worry about contaminates. I’m happy to see the discussion of water coming to the table. I believe we will see much come of this as we discover what is really in our water.

  11. Barbara Tippie says:

    I own a Sigg bottle so I want all the info. that I can get. Also does anyone know about the metal water bottles made by Coleman. The same company that makes the camping supplies. I have 4 of them and now wonder about them. They were only $4.99 at Bed Bath And Beyond. They are not as heavy as Sigg.

  12. dextrezza says:

    I use Klean Kanteen as my daily water bottle and am happy with them so far. I do agree with Nick though about glass wine bottles or even glass bottles in general. For the most part I find that drinking out of glass gives the best taste (mainly because when clean nothing leaches…that I know of) for any drink but not the easiest way for everyday carrying related to weight and durability.

  13. Pat says:

    To Robby, questioner #2, from the Eden Foods web site:

    Are Eden Beans packed in cans with enamel lining that contains bisphenol-A?

    No. Eden Organic Beans are packed in steel cans coated with a baked on oleoresinous c-enamel that does not contain the endocrine disrupter chemical, bisphenol-A (BPA). Oleoresin is a natural mixture of an oil and a resin extracted from various plants, such as pine or balsam fir. These cans cost 14% more than the industry standard cans that do contain BPA. The can maker, Ball Corporation, tells us that Eden is the only U.S. food maker to date to use these BPA free cans and we have been since April 1999.

  14. Why do they have to lie. The CEO better give us a good explanation. Good for me because I only use glass for my drinking. It’s a bit heavier but it is safer and no after taste…. Have a safe drinking everyone.

  15. Liz Kroboth says:

    I tried checking out the links to the SIGG website mentioned in the blog but both have been removed. They don’t even cover the issue in their FAQ. That seems rather suspicious to me. I feel incredibly disappointed right now. It shouldn’t be so difficult to match sure the water you’re drinking is safe.

Comments are closed.