Monday, January 14, 2008

The Case Against Bottled Water

An article in Salon (excerpted here) does a great job of explaining what's so bad about bottled water.
First, the manufacturing of plastic bottles, which are often made from nonrecycled virgin material, requires vast quantities of petroleum, and only 12 percent of this material is recovered for recycling. The total mass of an empty 1-liter bottle is around 25 grams (this varies from brand to brand) and it is made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate). One kilogram (1 kg = 2.2046 lbs.) of this type of plastic requires around 6.5 kilograms of oil, uses 294 kilograms of water (this includes power plant cooling water), and results in 3.7 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions. Based on my calculations, an empty 1-liter bottle requires over 7 liters of water in its manufacturing process, uses 162 grams of oil, and results in over 100 grams of greenhouse gas emissions. (That's about 10 balloons full of carbon dioxide, or how much an average car emits over half a kilometer or one-third of a mile.)
Next, the distribution of bottled water, often by container ship from the other side of the planet (Fiji, Evian, San Pellegrino), is fuel intensive and results in greenhouse gas and sulfur dioxide emissions. Transportation emissions are measured in grams of greenhouse gases (in carbon-dioxide-equivalent units) per metric ton per kilometer. Shipping by container ship emits about 17 grams of carbon dioxide per ton km, while trains release 56 grams per ton km, trucks spew 102 grams per ton km, and jet aircraft belch 570 grams per ton km. So the important factors in transportation emissions are weight, distance and transportation mode. Since we can't alter the weight of bottled water and companies will automatically select the most efficient and cost-effective means of
transport, we are left to control the distance component through our consumer choices.
Sales of bottled waters are driven by marketing that creates a perception of luxury, quality and novelty. After all, every brand tastes like, well, water. But you are paying a huge premium to be seen around town with that cool square Fiji bottle or distinctly green Perrier bottle. When you add the cost of packaging and marketing to transportation, not to mention the water makers' huge profits, you are paying two to five times more for a bottle of water than you do for the equivalent amount of gasoline. When compared with the price of tap water, bottled water costs up to 50,000 percent more (and many brands get their water from municipal water supplies).
Bottled water also represents a major ethical dilemma, given that millions of
people around the world lack access to clean and safe drinking water.
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at discounts on energy saving products at

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