It’s beginning to be outrageous to me that people are drinking so much bottled water without realizing its tremendous environmental impact. Though the nutritionally aware part of me is glad that people are drinking water instead of soda, the sheer volume of bottled water consumed has created a product with enormous impact. Though many other beverages also travel a great distance to consumer, these beverages do not flow from your home faucet nearly for free.
Things to consider:
You’re paying a huge amount of money for something that may or may not be as good for you as your tap water (and up to 40% of bottled water is simply tap water, bottled). If you’re worried about quality, you can buy a great faucet filter for not much money- if you add up what you’re paying per gallon of bottled water in a year ($1-$2 per bottle, vs. .0015 cents per gallon of tap water), you might be surprised at the total – what else could you have purchased with that money?
I love this quote from this fantastic article from Fastcompany.com : “In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It’s so good the EPA doesn’t require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.”
An incredible amount of energy is used to create and transport that bottle to you. Americans are drinking about 1 billion bottles a week.
The actual plastic bottle must be manufactured from petroleum (perhaps as far away as China), creating its own environmental impact.
Then those bottles must be transported, eating up more fossil fuels, to the bottling plant in lets say, Fiji. More fossil fuels are used to pump the water, fill the bottles, make the labels (perhaps also printed in another country and shipped to the plant), etc. In fact, electricity needed to run this big bottling plant 24 hours a day is greater than can be supplied by the infrastructure of Fiji, so three large diesel powered generators must be used.
As an aside, Fiji Water produces more than a million bottles a day, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have reliable drinking water.
These bottles are then traveling by ship, train, and truck (more than 8,000 miles to the West coast alone from Fiji)to get to a grocery store, using massive amounts of fossil fuels to be transported, as water is heavy. There’s an awesome breakdown of energy costs here.
(To be fair, as of 2008 Fiji water is making efforts to become carbon negative, purchasing carbon credits to offset their carbon footprint. We commend them for this – we do not specifically intend to bash Fiji water, but it is a good example of the kinds of journeys your bottled water can make. Fewer offsets would be necessary if less of a carbon footprint was made to begin with.)
More fossil fuels are used to refrigerate the water at the store, create and transport all of the marketing materials and point of sale branded coolers, etc.
All of these things add up to a product’s “embodied energy”, or all of the unseen energy used to get a product into your home.
Most of those bottles are not recycled. According to the Daily Biter, “Americans consume more than 2.5 million bottles of water every hour, and only around 10% are recycled”. According to a report recently released by the California Department of Conservation (CDOC), more than one billion water bottles are ending up in the state’s trash each year, representing enough plastic to make 74 million square feet of carpet or 16 million sweaters. Other products like plastic lumber can be manufactured from plastic bottles, and the demand for these recycled materials is higher than the amount of plastic currently being recycled.
As it says in “Message in a Bottle” (link below) Bottled water is not a sin, but it is a choice. Lets all resolve to use fewer water bottles by purchasing a reusable bottle and refilling it.
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