A pile of Poland Spring water bottles. Credit: Brett Weinstein | Creative Commons license 2.5

Water bottler Poland Spring said Tuesday that it is collaborating with the University of Maine to develop bio-based alternative packaging.

The move comes as Poland Spring’s parent, the Swiss conglomerate Nestle, looks to sell the Maine company partly because of rising consumer resistance to its plastic bottles. Nestle said in June that it wants to make its entire group of companies, which also includes the Deer Park and Pure Life water brands, carbon-neutral. The process to explore the sale is to conclude in 2021, according to Nestle.

Nestle Waters North America, Poland Spring’s U.S. parent, said it is committed to having 25 percent of its bottles made from recycled plastic in its U.S. companies by 2021 and 50 percent by 2025. Poland Spring expects to reach 100 percent recycled plastic for its still waters by 2022.

The agreement with UMaine is with its Forest Bioproducts Research Institute. The university is to explore new uses of materials derived from sustainably harvested Maine wood.

Poland Spring said the collaboration evolved after Nestle Waters North America sponsored a two-day bioplastics meeting at the university in May 2019.

David Tulauskas, vice president and chief sustainability officer at Nestle Waters North America, said the university is pioneering renewable and sustainable wood-based materials and processes that can be used as an alternative to plastics.

“This project will identify additional potential uses for the state’s wood fiber byproducts as sustainable packaging or other products,” Tulauskas said.

Diversifying the uses of Maine-harvested biomass is essential to the growth and sustainability of the state’s forest economy, Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, said.

Maine Department of Economic Development Commissioner Heather Johnson called the collaboration “a great example of a strong private-public partnership.”