The amount of materials used to make polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic, and glass bottled water containers has been reduced by 42.8 percent between 2007 and 2015, according to a new study.
The Quantis Life Cycle Inventory and Environmental Footprint of Bottled Water for the North American Market study found the total grams of bottle material per gallon of bottled water (excluding labels and caps) has been reduced from 129 grams in 2007 to just 73.9 grams in 2015.
The report, commissioned by the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), measured key environmental metrics such as greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), energy, and solid waste for the production of bottled water, which is packaged in 100 percent recyclable containers.
Key findings include:
- Small-pack bottled water products (such as half liter and gallon size) have a GHG footprint of 6,920 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2)-eq per 10,000 gallons of water sold in 2015. By comparison, carbonated soft drinks, as computed by the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (2012), have a footprint of 20,400 kg CO2-eq per 10,000 gallons, nearly three times more than small-pack bottled water. Home and office delivery (HOD) bottled water products (2.5, 3 and 5 gallon size) have a footprint of 6,720 kg CO2-eq per 10,000 gallons of water sold in 2015. The total GHG emissions from the bottled water industry (small pack and HOD) were 7.49 million metric tons of CO2-eq. U.S. GHG emissions from all sources in 2015 totaled 6.58 billion metric tons of CO2-eq, as reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2015 (2017b).
- Small-pack bottled water products used approximately 243,000 megajoules (MJ) of non-renewable energy per 10,000 gallons of water sold in 2015, and HOD bottled water products used approximately 116,000 MJ of non-renewable energy per 10,000 gallons of water sold in 2015. In 2015, the total non-renewable energy consumption by the bottled water industry was 0.247 trillion MJ. The total non-renewable energy consumption of the United States in 2015 was 83.7 trillion MJ reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA 2017).
- Excluding recycled waste, the bottled water industry generated 0.288 million metric tons of solid waste in 2015. In the United States, approximately 258 million metric tons of municipal solid waste was generated in 2014 (the latest figure available).
Note that these studies exclude the use phase of the bottled water products life cycles.
“The environmentally aware actions of bottled water companies, such as light-weighting our containers, using more recycled PET (rPET) in bottle production, and increasing curbside recycling rates, have impacted the environmental footprint of the industry in a positive way,” said Jill Culora, IBWA’s vice president of communications. “Bottled water is America’s favorite packaged drink, and it also has the least impact on the environment compared to other packaged beverages. So, consumers who are drinking bottled water instead of other packaged drinks are making a healthy choice—and also reducing the impact on the environment.”
For the first time in history, bottled water consumption outpaced carbonated soft drinks to become the No. 1 beverage in the U.S. in 2016. Preliminary 2017 figures indicate bottled water’s popularity is continuing to grow, according to data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC). Figures from BMC indicate that consumers are drinking bottled water instead of other less healthy beverages. Per capita consumption of bottled water climbed from 27.6 gallons per person in 2006 to 39.3 in 2016, and during that same period carbonated soft drinks dropped by 11.9 gallons per person.
“The bottled water industry is also an efficient water user. Minimizing water use has long been a part of the bottled water industry’s legacy of protecting, maintaining, and preserving water resources for future generations,” Culora said.
“The bottled water industry is continually developing new and innovative ways to conserve this precious resource.” Some of these measures include:
- Auditing total water use at bottled water facilities
- Reducing groundwater extraction through improved water processing and bottling processes
- Looking for leaks in all of their piping and tanks
- Planting drought-resistant vegetation at bottling facilities
- Reminding employees to be good stewards of the environment and encouraging water conservation
- Implementing water use restrictions at their facilities
- Implementing ultra-efficient cleaning methods inside plants to reduce water usage when cleaning reusable 3- and 5-gallon bottles for water coolers used in homes and offices
- Reducing the use of cleaners when sterilizing water pipes, storage tanks, and finished products
- Managing water withdrawals in a manner that ensures the long-term viability of the watershed
- Using hydro-geological evaluations on springs to assess any potential impact on local groundwater levels and stream flows
As a result of these water-use reduction efforts, bottled water has the lowest water footprint of all packaged drinks, using just 1.32 liters of water (including the 1 liter of water consumed) to produce a 1 liter bottle product, a 2015 Antea Group study for IBWA found. (To read more, click here.)