The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) recently commissioned a Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) study to determine the environmental footprint of the United States bottled water industry. The results indicate that bottled water has a very small environmental footprint. The study found:
- Measurement based on British Thermal Units (BTUs) indicates that the energy consumed to produce small pack water bottled water containers water (containers from 8 ounces to 2.5 gallons).amounted to only 0.067 percent of the total energy use in the United States in 2007. Home and Office Delivery (HOD) bottled water (reusable bottles from 2.5 to 5 gallons) energy consumption only amounted to 0.003 percent of the total energy used in the United States in 2007.
- The small pack and HOD bottled water industries’ combined greenhouse gas/ CO2 emissions amounted to only 0.08 percent of total United States greenhouse gas emissions.
- Bottled water packaging discards accounted for only 0.64 percent of the 169 million tons of total U.S. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) discards in 2007.
- The process and transportation BTU energy use for the bottled water industry was only 0.07 percent of total U.S. BTU primary energy consumption.
- Greenhouse gas emissions per half gallon of single serve bottled water came to 426.4 grams CO2 equivalent (eq.), which is 75 percent less CO2 eq. per half gallon than orange juice.
- Small pack bottled water generates 46 percent less CO2 eq. when compared to soft drinks also packaged in PET plastic.
Franklin Associates, a division of ERG, produced the LCI and prepared a report that quantified the energy requirements, solid waste generation, and greenhouse gas emissions for the production, packaging, transport, and end-of- life management for bottled water consumed in the United States in 2007. According to a 2008 Beverage Marketing Corporation report, total consumption of bottled water in the U.S. in 2007 was 8.8 billion gallons.
“The environmentally aware actions of many bottled water companies, such as the use of more recycled PET (rPET) in their bottle production, increasing recycling rates, and enhanced light-weighting, have positively impacted the environmental footprint of the industry,” says Tom Lauria, Vice President, IBWA Communications.
Another recent study confirms the bottled water industry’s very small environmental footprint. On March 2, 2010, Nestle Waters North America, an IBWA member, released peer-reviewed findings on its environmental footprint, in a study conducted by Quantis International.
Key findings from the study include:
- Water is the least environmentally impactful beverage option.
- Tap water has lightest footprint, followed by tap water consumed in reusable bottles (if used more than 10 times), and then by bottled water.
- Bottled water is the most environmentally responsible packaged drink choice.
- Sports drinks, enhanced waters and soda produce nearly 50% more carbon dioxide emissions per serving than bottled water.
- Juice, beer and milk produce nearly three times as many carbon dioxide emissions per serving than bottled water.
- Milk, coffee, beer, wine and juice together comprise 28% of a consumer’s total beverage consumption but represent 58% of climate change impact.
Technical Highlights From the IBWA LCI Study
Energy— The IBWA LCI report looked at the BTU (British Thermal Unit) values for fuels and electricity consumed in the production of bottled water. The information is categorized according to six basic energy sources: natural gas, petroleum, coal, nuclear, hydropower, and other (solar, biomass and geothermal energy). Also included in the LCI report are the BTU values for all transportation steps and production of packaging materials, including the energy content of fossil-fuel derived packaging materials.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2007 the United States consumed 101,553,855 billion (102 quadrillion) BTUs of primary energy as fuels (this is approximately 335.9 million BTU per person).(1) Based on this data, the IBWA LCI report found that:
- The production, packaging, and transportation of the 8,757 million gallons of HOD and small pack bottled water consumed in the U.S. in 2007 required 107.4 trillion BTU.(2) Thus, process and transportation energy use for the bottled water industry was 0.07 percent of total U.S. primary energy consumption reported by EIA.
- Of the 107.4 trillion BTU used in 2007 for bottled water, 102.6 trillion was for small pack water (0.067 percent of the total energy use in the United States in 2007) and 4.8 trillion for HOD water (0.003 percent of the total energy used by the United States in 2007).
Solid Waste — The report examined solid wastes generated from the production, processing, packaging, and transportation of bottled water. The quantities of postconsumer packaging wastes (packaging that is disposed after the bottled water is consumed) were adjusted to account for current recycling levels for plastic, glass, and corrugated packaging.
Americans generated 254 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2007, as reported by the U.S. EPA. After recovery for recycling, total MSW discards were 169.2 million tons.(3)
- Based on data reported by IBWA members for small pack and HOD water, the total weight of packaging materials used for bottled water packaging in 2007 was 1.64 million tons. After adjusting for recycling of containers and packaging, the net amount of bottled water packaging disposed of in landfills was 1.08 million tons.
- At 1.08 million tons, bottled water packaging discards account for 0.64 percent of the 169 million tons of total U.S. MSW discards in 2007.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are expressed as CO2 equivalents (CO2 eq).(4)
According to the EIA, total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2007 were 7,947 million tons of CO2 eq.(5) Based on this data, the IBWA LCI report found that:
- The small pack and HOD bottled water industries combined emit 6.8 million tons of CO2 eq. a year, which is equivalent to 0.08 percent of total United States emissions.
- The life cycle GHG emissions per half gallon of small pack bottled water are 426.4 grams CO2 eq., which is 75 percent less CO2 eq. per half gallon than orange juice (1700 grams of CO2 eq. per half gallon).(6)
- The life cycle carbon footprint for a 500 ml PET bottle of a name brand soft drink is reportedly 240 grams CO2 eq, and the carbon footprint for 500 ml PET diet soft drink bottle is reportedly 220 grams CO2 eq.(7) At 111 g CO2 eq. per 500 ml equivalent basis, small pack bottled water generates 46 percent less CO2 eq. when compared to these soft drinks.(8)