Bottled Water Consumption Shift

Bottled Water Consumption Shift

Consumers are increasingly choosing bottled water instead of less healthy packaged drinks.

Bottled water reaffirmed its position as America’s favorite packaged drink in 2023, outselling all other packaged beverages (by volume) for an eighth year in a row, new data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC) shows.

For more than a decade, consumers have been increasingly choosing bottled water instead of less healthy packaged drinks. And the gap is widening: per capita consumption of bottled water stands at 46.4 gallons, while consumption of the No.2 packaged beverage, carbonated soft drinks, is 34.4 gallons. This consumption shift highlights consumers’ preference for healthy hydration.

Americans consumed 15.94 billion gallons of bottled water in 2023, while carbonated soft drinks sold 11.84 billion gallons. In addition, bottled water’s retail dollar sales grew in 2023, up 6.5%, reaching $48 billion, BMC data show.

A significant portion of bottled water’s growth (34% since 2012) has come from people switching to bottled water from other less-healthy packaged drinks. And nine out of ten Americans (91%) want bottled water to be available wherever other drinks are sold, according to a survey conducted on behalf of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) by The Harris Poll.

This healthy consumption shift from sugary drinks to bottled water could also work in reverse. If bottled water is not available, 74% of people say that they will turn to other packaged drinks, not tap water, The Harris Poll found.

“People are choosing to drink fewer calories and making that healthy choice of bottled water has the added benefit of helping the environment. Not only are bottled water containers 100% recyclable (including the cap) but they also use much less plastic than soda and other packaged beverages,” says Jill Culora, IBWA’s vice president of communications.

For comparison, a PET bottled water container weighs, on average, 8.3 grams; a PET soda bottle weighs 22.2 grams, due to carbonation and manufacturing processes. Lower material usage means less environmental impact from material extraction, manufacturing, and ultimately results in less material entering landfills or needing to be recycled.

Even with continuing growth and increased consumption, bottled water still has the smallest water and energy use footprint of any packaged beverage. On average, only 1.39 liters of water (including the 1 liter of water consumed) and 0.21 mega joules of energy are used to produce 1 liter of finished bottled water.

Most bottled water is packaged in 100% recyclable PET #1 plastic and HDPE #2 plastic, which are the plastics that are most recognized as being recyclable and the most recycled plastics in the world. This means consumers do not need to be confused about recycling bottled water containers because they are among the few consumer packaging types that are universally recyclable across the United States. Not all cities and towns recycle glass bottles and laminated paper cartons.

Among all the items that get placed in recycle bins or taken to drop-off centers, an estimated 99% of all PET plastic bottles get recycled. Post-consumer PET and HDPE plastic is in huge demand by industries because they want to use that recycled plastic to make more products. Many bottled water companies use recycled PET and HDPE plastic to create new bottles, which reduces the need for virgin plastic.

We know that bottled water drinkers recycle more often than drinkers of other beverages. Of all the PET containers recycled through curbside collections systems, bottled water containers make up approximately 52%. Empty bottled water containers should always be returned or placed in a recycling bin, but when they are not, they make up 3.3% of all drink packaging that ends up in landfills, and only 0.02% of landfill waste.

In addition, plastic food and beverage containers (which includes bottled water) are not a significant contributor to ocean waste. Oxford University’s Our World in Data website reports that of all the plastic waste in the ocean, only 0.95% comes from Central and North America. The Oxford website says, “If we aim to address the ocean plastic problem, an understanding of this global picture is important . . . whilst countries across North America and Europe generate significant quantities of plastic waste (particularly on a per capita basis), well-managed waste streams mean that very little of this is at risk of ocean pollution. In fact, if North America and Europe were to completely eliminate plastic use, global mismanaged plastic would decline by less than 5 percent.”

According to BMC Chairman and CEO Michael C. Bellas, “Upward movement in per capita consumption indicates clear, persisting demand for a product that consumers see as a healthy alternative to other beverages.”

“Multiple inherent qualities explain bottled water’s ongoing appeal for U.S. consumers, including its association with healthfulness, convenience, safety and value.”

“Bottled water’s freedom from calories and artificial ingredients appeals to many consumers,” says Bellas. “Bottled water achieved its position at the apex of beverage rankings by enticing consumers away from other packaged beverages. Some consumers may have transitioned away from regular, full-calorie beverages in favor of their diet versions, but many others opted for bottled water instead. As some consumers became wary of artificial sweeteners, they shifted away from diet beverages as well as regular counterparts.”

“Consumer preference for healthy hydration and bottled water is really good news for public health,” says Culora. “This is particularly important as the nation continues to experience high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”

“Helping people make healthier choices is at the core of the bottled water business,” says Culora. “Consumers have made it clear that there’s a demand for safe, healthy, and convenient bottled water, as they are responsible for propelling bottled water to the title of America’s most popular packaged beverage, by volume.”

Whether you are at home, in the office, or on the go, IBWA encourages all consumers to make healthy hydration a part of their lifestyle and select bottled water as their beverage of choice and always recycle their empty containers—with the caps on.