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The True Cost of Bottled Water

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

As you reach for the bottled water in the supermarkets and cafe's, I urge you to reconsider.

Behind this seemingly innocent purchase is a mountain of unseen consequences, from the depletion of natural resources to the transport of FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), the purchase of bottled water feeds into a system which has nothing but negative consequences.

In 2010 sales of bottled water reached a shocking 230 billion litres, with Asia rising from around 15 billion litres in 1998 to 32 billion litres in 2010.

In 2018 alone, Americans spent $31 billion on bottled water

Let's break down the maths a little here to give it some context.

In 2018 there were 327 million people in the US.

Each bottle of water costs between $0.70 and $1.11 approx, so for ease of understanding lets say that a bottle of water costs $1.

That means, 31,000,000,000 bottles of water were purchased in 2018 in America. This, divided by the 327,000,000 people works out at 94 bottles per person, or $94 per person in America, per year, for bottled water that becomes discarded after use. This only considers the amount purchased, not including those produced for stock and sitting in warehouses.

A reusable bottle costs around £10 and saves billions of bottles from polluting our planet.

Even more concerning is that 877 plastic bottles are thrown away every second.

Clever marketing tells us the bottled water comes from pristine, crystal clear springs that are untouched and unpolluted. In truth, the water in the bottle is very rarely any cleaner than the water from your taps, and more than 64% of bottled water in the US is actually filtered tap water (Food & Water Watch, 2018).

Bottled water is subject to testing by the FDA, however this testing is a requirement and isn't conducted by the FDA, and the companies are not required to release the results of their tests to the public either. In 2019, Penafiel, owned by Keurig Dr Pepper, was forced to remove their unflavoured mineral water from the market after it was found to contain high levels of arsenic.

A little history...

In 1973 Nathaniel Wyeth patented the first PET bottle. It was lightweight, safe, cheap and recyclable and so began the FMCG, the fashion trend, and the pollution of our planet.

In the late 80's catwalk models carried Evian water bottles on the runway. Bottled water was endorsed by celebrities and carrying bottled water was considered; fashionable.

Now, the fashion is recycling water bottles into ink cartridges, clothing and even roads, yet purchasing bottled water still continues to rise.

The number of water bottles that currently exist is unfathomable. We can see the evidence of this mass consumerism and waste in the bodies of whales that wash up onto our beaches, and from social media posts of recently found litter from 40+ years ago.

Bottled water takes hundreds and hundreds of years to break down, that is assuming it isn't ingested or broken down into micro-plastics in the water.

In 2015 UNESCO estimated that around 100,000 marine animals die from plastic pollution each year.

In April 2019 a marine mammal expert Darrell Blatchley began a necropsy on a beached whale. The whale contained 88 pounds of plastic which were so tightly packed inside that it has been killing the whale from the inside out. No food had managed to reach the intestines in days and dehydration occurred. We can only imagine the pain felt by the whale.

So what goes into the manufacturing of plastic bottles?

50% of the energy in the product life cycle is in the production of the plastic bottle. Manufacturing PET resin generates more toxic emissions (nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide, benzene) than manufacturing glass. Producing a 16 oz. PET bottle generates more than 100 times the toxic emissions to air and water than making the same size bottle out of glass.

There are also many health concerns associated with plastic packaging. In addition to creating safety problems during production, many chemical additives that give plastic products desirable performance properties also have negative environmental and human health effects. These effects include direct toxicity, as in the cases of lead, cadmium, and mercury; or carcinogens such as diethyl hexylphosphate (DEHP).

Worryingly for the consumer, people are exposed to these chemicals not only during manufacturing, but also by using plastic packages, because some chemicals diffuse (migrate) from the packaging polymer to the foods they contain.

45% of the energy in the product life cycle is in the transportation of plastic bottles from manufacturing to filling centres and to the supermarkets for purchase.

Treating the water and filling the bottles takes only a tiny amount of energy in comparison with the bottle manufacturing and transportation. In fact, they account only for 4% in refrigeration, and less than 1% in treatment and less than 1% in the filling, labelling and sealing the bottle. Meaning 95% of the total energy cost is in bottle manufacturing and transportation.

So, what can we do?

1) Reduce.

2) Purchase a reusable bottle.

3) Find useful alternatives for plastic bottles

4) Make sure that any plastic bottles are recycled correctly

5) Inform others.

Once we stop consuming, production will end.

Once production ends, the aggressive cycle will stop and the environment and wildlife will begin to flourish again.

A counter showing the tons of plastic waste dumped into the oceans so far this year.

Thanks for reading,

The Climate Corner.



US Data -

Bottled Water Arsenic Levels -

National Geographic Story -

Manufacturing PET Resin -

Manufacturing Image -

Bottle Discard Count - How We're F****ing Up Our Plant -

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