Key Issues

Bottled water is the No.1 packaged beverage in the United States—and has been for the past eight years.

Many issues impact the production of bottled water. This webpage provides brief summaries on the important issues facing the bottled water industry, and IBWA’s actions to ensure consumers continue to have the right to choose bottled water as their healthy hydration option. Simply click on your topic of interest to view the bottled water facts.

Environmental Footprint

  • Research shows that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottled water containers, which make up 71% of the U.S. bottled water market, have the smallest environmental impact compared to all other drink packaging types.
  • Trayak LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, conducted a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for IBWA, which measured several variables to determine the overall environmental impact of specific packaging types, including PET water bottles, PET soda bottles, glass bottles, canned water, and beverage cartons. Its conclusion: PET water bottles have a lower environmental impact than all other packaged beverage containers.

  • Research conducted by McKinsey & Company finds that “PET bottles have the lowest GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions because of their lightweight properties and the low amount of energy required to produce them. By contrast, aluminum cans have two times the emissions of PET bottles, and emissions from glass bottles are three times higher.”
  • The McKinsey report compares PET soda bottles, rather than PET water bottles, with other packaging types. If PET water bottles had been included, it is highly likely that the report would have found an even greater disparity between GHG emissions when compared with aluminum cans and glass bottles.
  • Both Trayak and McKinsey & Company find that GHG emissions are less for beverage containers made of PET plastic.
  • If the bottled water industry switched from bottling water in 16.9-ounce PET plastic containers to alternative packaging, the increased GHG emissions would equate to:

— aluminum cans: more than 1.9 million more cars on the road annually

— paperboard cartons: over 422,000 more cars on the road annually

— glass bottles: nearly 6 million more cars.

  • The amount of energy saved by producing bottled water in PET plastic bottles compared to other packaging is equivalent to:

— aluminum cans: powering over 844,000 more homes each year

— paperboard cartons: powering over 253,000 more homes each year

— glass bottles: powering 7.6 million more homes each year.

  • A report from the National Association for PET Container Resources also finds that PET plastic bottles produce significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions when compared to its glass and aluminum counterparts. The report further shows that PET plastic bottles also create less solid waste, use less water, and generate fewer emissions detrimental to air and water quality during production.
  • An American Chemistry Council (ACC) report, conducted by Franklin Associates, examined the overall impact of plastics on the environment, compared to other materials. The study looked at energy demand, water consumption, solid waste, global warming potential, eutrophication potential, smog formation potential, and ozone depletion potential. The research again concluded that, when comparing materials throughout the entire life cycle of a package, plastics leave a much smaller environmental footprint than the alternatives of glass, aluminum cans, and paperboard cartons.
  • The data clearly shows that PET packaging is best for single-serve bottled water. Packaging water in aluminum cans, glass bottles, or paperboard cartons would result in an increase GHG emissions and increased use of resources.

Recycling

  • All bottled water containers, whether packaged in PET, HDPE, or PC plastic, are 100% recyclable – including the caps.
  • PET bottled water containers are the most recognized and most recycled containers in curbside programs, making up nearly 48% of all PET plastic beverage containers collected. (Source: National Association for PET Container Resources’ Report on PET Recycing in 2021)
  • Even when not properly recycled, individual serving-size PET plastic bottled water containers make up only 3.3% of all drink packaging in U.S. landfills. Soda PET plastic containers make up 13.3%, and aluminum cans make up 7.9%.
  • IBWA and several of our bottler members support, both financially and with staff time, organizations that are focused on recycling and waste reduction across the country. Membership in and support of Keep America Beautiful, The Recycling Partnership, and local community groups addressing concerns over litter, waste, and recycling are vital to ensuring that consumers are aware of and given every opportunity to dispose of everyday waste properly.
  • The bottled water industry supports strong community recycling initiatives and recognizes that a continued focus on increased recycling is important for the public and the environment.
  • IBWA is a strong supporter of a circular economy. When empty bottled water containers (including the caps) are placed in a recycle bin and collected, the recycled plastic can be used to make new containers from old ones—which means less virgin plastic is needed in the marketplace.
  • IBWA is a strong supporter of legislation proposed to strengthen the U.S. recycling infrastructure. IBWA supports passage of both the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act and the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act, bills that will gather nationwide data on recycling and provide grants to underserved communities to improve access to recycling.

Recycled Content Usage

  • IBWA member companies are increasing their use of recycled PET (rPET), and some bottled water companies already use bottles made from 50%, 75%, and, in some cases, 100% rPET.
  • The bottled water industry is continually developing additional ways to reduce its environmental footprint—from production to distribution to consumption. Those efforts include development of “green” bottling facilities, as well as utilization of more fuel-efficient means of producing and transporting their products to market.
  • Bottled water companies have reduced the environmental footprint of their plastic containers by continually light-weighting PET bottled water plastic packaging. Their efforts have resulted in the average weight drop to 8.3 grams per 16.9 ounce single-serve container.
  • That is over 50% less PET than the amount it takes to make soda and other drink containers, which need to be thicker due to carbonation and manufacturing processes and weigh, on average, 22 grams.
  • The industry has decreased the weight of its packaging tremendously over the last two decades, with the average weight of a PET single-serve bottle being 8.3 grams. This has resulted in saving billions of pounds of PET resin during that timeframe.

Water Use

The amount of water used for bottling water in the United States is very small — less than 0.01% of the total groundwater withdrawn each year.

Water use for manufacture of product

  • Bottled water has the lowest water-use ratio of all packaged beverages.
  • On average, it takes only 1.39 liters of water to produce 1 liter of finished bottled water (and that includes the 1 liter of water consumed). That is the lowest water-use ratio of any packaged beverage product.
  • The entire U.S. bottled water market was about 22.1 billion gallons in 2022. In contrast, residents of Los Angeles go through that amount of tap water in 11.4 weeks, based upon the latest data from LA Water and Power for FY 2018-19.
  • Most of the bottled water that comes from a state’s water sources is sold in that state.
  • The vast majority of bottled water companies in the United States use local water sources and distribute their products to nearby towns and states.
  • Unlike tap water, bottled water is 100% intended for human consumption. Less than one-half of 1% of tap water is drunk by humans.

Water use in production of containers

  • An LCA conducted by Trayak shows that it takes much less water to produce PET bottled water containers than all other packaging types, including PET soda bottles, aluminum cans, paperboard cartons, and glass bottles.
  • Bottled water packaged in PET plastic has less impact on the environment:

— Choose PET packaged bottled water over aluminum containers: saves almost 245 billion gallons of water each year, or the equivalent of over 38 million people showering every day for an entire year

— Choose PET packaged bottled water over paperboard cartons: saves over 768 billion gallons of water annually, or the equivalent of over 122 million people showering every day for a year

— Choose PET packaged bottled water over glass bottles: saves over 2 trillion gallons of water annually, or the equivalent of over 326 million people showering every day for a year

— Choose PET packaged bottled water instead of PET packaged soda: save almost 667 billion gallons of water annually, or the equivalent of over 105 million people showering every day for a year.

 

  • Using packaging other than PET plastic for bottled water will result in the increased use of water.
  • To support sustainable sourcing, the bottled water industry uses plastic packaging to ensure that the least amount of water is used to produce our industry’s products.

Energy Use

  • Producing bottled water in PET plastic also consumes less energy. Switching from PET plastic bottles to other packaging would result in:
    – powering over 844,000 more homes each year for aluminum cans
    – powering over 253,000 more homes each year for cartons
    – powering 7.6 million more homes each year for glass bottles.
  • On average, only 0.21 mega joules of energy are used to produce 1 liter of bottle of water. For perspective, here’s how much energy it takes to produce 1 liter of other popular packaged drinks: carbonated soft drinks – 0.31 MJ, beer – 1.05 MJ, spirits – 14.82 MJ, and wine – 1.32 MJ. (Source: BIER)

Nano- and Microplastics / Ocean Plastic

Nano- and Microplastics

  • Nano- and microplastic particles are found in all aspects of our environment – soil, air, and water.
  • Bottled water, which is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food product, is just one of thousands of food and beverage products packaged in plastic containers.
  • FDA has stated its position on a recent study from Columbia University researchers and nano- and microplastics in general. Here is what the FDA said:
    – “While there is evidence that microplastics and nanoplastics are entering the food supply … there is a lack of evidence demonstrating that microplastics or nanoplastics occurrence in food poses a risk to human health.”
    – “This is an area where the FDA has not only been monitoring the research but also working to advance the science through analysis of testing methodologies and other related work, including participation in the United States Government Nanoplastic Community of Interest.”
    – “The FDA is not aware of scientific evidence that would support consumers being concerned about the potential level of microplastic or nanoplastic contamination in food, including bottled water.”
  • Because there is no scientific evidence to suggest that nano- and microplastic particles pose a health risk, FDA has not issued any regulations concerning these substances in foods and beverages.
  • Any regulatory action concerning nano- and microplastic particles would need to be based on sound science, including demonstrating a correlation between the levels of this substance found in foods and beverages and any potential adverse health effects.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO), after reviewing the available studies concerning water, food, and beverages, has concluded that no adverse health effects could be drawn from dietary exposure to nano- and microplastic particles less than 10 microns due to minimal scientific research.
  • WHO’s recommendation is for more research to be conducted, as well as establishing standardized methods for measuring and quantifying nano and microplastics. (Source: “Dietary and inhalation exposure to nano- and microplastic particles and potential implications for human health.” Geneva: World Health Organization; 2022.)
  • As “water is the simplest food matrix to analyze for [microplastics],” researchers often use water to study microplastics and, more recently, nanoplastics. Studies on microplastics in other foods have, so far, been rare.
  • However, the occurance of more studies on microplatics in drinking water “is not implicitly related to the abundance and relevance of  [microplastics] in drinking water.” It is merely a result of water being “the simplest food matrix to analyze for [microplastics.]”
  • Barbara E. Ossmann, PhD, a state certified food chemist at Germany’s Barvarian Health and Food Safety Authority encourages restraint when discussing microplastics and drinking water: “Estimations of the total intake of [microplastics] by humans based on the available results should be made with care. Especially conclusions that drinking water may represent one major route for the oral intake of [microplastics] are not justified.”
  • All bottled water products are produced utilizing a multi-barrier approach. From source to finished product, a multi-barrier approach helps prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product as well as storage, production, and transportation equipment.
  • Many of the steps in a multi-barrier system are effective in safeguarding bottled water from microbiological and other contamination. Measures in a multi-barrier approach may include one or more of the following: source protection, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, and ultraviolet (UV) light.
  •  As always, the bottled water industry is committed to providing consumers with the safest and highest quality products and we are following any scientific developments on this subject closely.

Ocean Plastics

  • Bottled water containers are not a major source of ocean pollution and microplastics.
  • Bottled water containers are just one of thousands of food products packaged in plastic.
  • In fact, bottled water containers account for 1.58% of all the plastic items produced in the United States.
  • If the United States were to completely eliminate all plastic use, the effort would only result in a 0.25% reduction of ocean plastics.
  • That means that if all bottled water in plastic packaging were removed from the United States, it would lead to a reduction of about 1.58% of 0.25%, or 0.00395%.
  • The latest research on microplastic particles in oceans reveals that they primarily originate from wastewater from washing machines—not bottled water production.
  • Currently, there is no scientific consensus on the potential health impacts of microplastics.

Sales Bans

  • Americans are making great efforts to live a better lifestyle by choosing healthier foods and beverages, and drinking water—tap, bottled, or filtered—should be encouraged.
  • With the high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in our on-the-go society, bottled water provides a safe, healthy, and, convenient beverage choice.
  • Any proposal to ban the sale of bottled water is not in the public interest.
  • Bottled water is the most popular and in-demand packaged beverage in America for health, safety, convenience, taste, and recyclability reasons.
  • Nine out of 10 Americans (91%) want bottled water to be available wherever other drinks are sold.
  • Bottled water products in single-serve plastic containers have the lowest environmental footprint of any packaged beverage.
  • Single-serve PET plastic bottled water containers weigh less, emit fewer greenhouse gases, and use less fossil fuels and less water to make than any other packaged beverage container, including aluminum cans, glass bottles, and paperboard cartons.
  • Recent proposed ordinances want to define plastic water bottles are “single-use” plastic. But bottled water bottles are single-serve, not single-use. They are carefully designed to be fully recyclable, including the caps, and can be remade again into new bottles and products if properly recycled.
  • Plastic bottles make up only 1% of municipal solid waste in the United States. Other plastics make up more than 10 times that and are largely not recyclable.
  • A ban on the sale of plastic water bottles would reduce the amount of PET plastic in recycling streams across the United States. PET is one of the most sought-after materials in resource recovery markets.
  • While bottled water is just one of thousands of consumer items packaged in plastic, the bottled water industry has gone to great lengths to reduce the environmental impact of its packaging, including light-weighting our bottles and using more recycled material.
  • IBWA and several of our members are actively involved with organizations focused on recycling and waste reduction across the country. Our partnerships with Keep America Beautiful, The Recycling Partnership, and local community groups help ensure that consumers are aware of and given every opportunity to properly recycle and dispose of their everyday waste.
  • Recycling education campaigns; robust access to convenient recycling options for residents, visitors, and consumers; and the circulation of recyclable materials in the marketplace are more effective and environmentally sustainable solutions than sales bans.

PFAS

  • Currently, neither the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates tap water, nor the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates bottled water, has enforceable regulations for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water.
  • In November 2019, IBWA asked FDA to establish standards of quality (SOQs) for PFAS in bottled water. FDA responded to IBWA’s request stating that “establishing an SOQ for PFAS in bottled water at this time would not significantly enhance FDA’s mission of public health protection.” This was based upon FDA’s testing and analysis of 30 different bottled water products, with none of them showing any detectable levels of PFAS.
  • Although not required by FDA, IBWA requires its members to test for 18 PFAS substances in all the products they sell.
  • IBWA member companies must also meet the following SOQs for PFAS in their bottled water products:
    – 5 parts per trillion (ppt) for detection of a single PFAS compound
    – 10 ppt for detection of two or more PFAS compounds
  • IBWA members test using EPA Method 537.1.
  • The EPA has proposed a 4 ppt Maximum Contaminate Level (MCL) for PFOS and PFOA, and a Hazard Index of 1.0 is proposed for assessing the impact of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and HFPO-DA for PFAS substances in tap water. By law, once the EPA PFAS regulation becomes final, FDA will have 180 days to either issue a corresponding regulation for bottled water or publish a rationale for why the EPA’s regulation is not applicable to bottled water. If FDA does neither within the prescribed time frame, then the EPA PFAS regulation will automatically become applicable to bottled water by operation of law. That ensures parity in the regulation of bottled water and tap water.
  • Consumers who are concerned about PFAS in their drinking water should call their water provider (e.g., public water system or bottled water company). If consumers are not able to obtain the PFAS information they want from a bottled water bottler, they have the option to switch to another brand. The same can’t be said about their public water system.
  • Processes and practices used in producing bottled water—such as source protection, reverse osmosis, and carbon filtration—greatly reduce the likelihood that PFAS would be found in bottled water. If it is, IBWA members have access to association-supplied guidance materials for monitoring and controlling PFAS levels in bottled water.

PFAS Background

  • PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many others. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States, since the 1940s—but NOT bottled water companies.
  • PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both are very persistent in the environment and in the human body; in fact, they don’t break down and can accumulate over time. Evidence shows that exposure to PFAS may lead to adverse human health effects.
  • PFAS can sometimes be found in the following:
    – Food packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water.
    – Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams (a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs).
    – Workplaces that use PFAS, including production facilities or industries (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing, or oil recovery).
    – Tap water, typically localized and associated with a specific facility (e.g., manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, firefighter training facility).
    – Living organisms, including fish, animals, and humans, where PFAS can build up and persist over time.

Water First for Thirst

  • For those who want to eliminate or moderate calories, sugar, caffeine, artificial flavors or colors, and other ingredients from their diet or simply wish to opt for a convenient beverage with refreshing taste, reliable quality, and zero calories – choosing water is the right choice no matter the delivery method.
  • Bottled water is a smart decision and a healthy choice when it comes to packaged beverage options.
  • Efforts to eliminate or reduce access to water, via any delivery method, only hinder attempts to encourage people to choose healthier drink options and is not in the public interest.
  • For over a decade, the majority of the growth in bottled water consumption relative to other beverages has come from people switching to bottled water from other less-healthy packaged drinks (44% between 2010 and 2020).
  • One of the simplest changes a person striving to live healthier can make is to switch to drinking water instead of other beverages that are loaded with sugar and calories.
  • According to the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) and the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, two-thirds of American adults are overweight with one-third of those individuals being obese, and over the last 30 years, children’s obesity rates have climbed from 5% to 17%. Drinking zero-calorie beverages, such as water, instead of sugary drinks is regularly cited as a key component of a more healthful lifestyle, and promoting greater consumption of water from all sources, including from bottled water, can only benefit those efforts.
  • In today’s on-the-go society, most of what we drink comes in a package. Restrictions on bottled water only help to promote less healthy options among other packaged beverages, like juices and soda that have more plastic packaging, more ingredients (many artificial), and greater environmental impacts than bottled water.
  • Research shows that if bottled water isn’t available, 74% of people will choose another packaged drink – not water from a drinking fountain, filtered tap water, or tap water.
  • According to Beverage Marketing Corporation, only 5.1% of the bottled water market was manufactured and sold in glass, cans, or other packaging material in 2022.
  • Plastic, of all sizes and types, has been the main delivery container for bottled water for good reasons. It is flexible, lightweight, easy to transport, and is hygienic and shatterproof.
  • Research shows that plastic is the preferred packaging material of not only industry but also consumers.
  • PET packaging uses less water and energy to produce than other packaging types (e.g., aluminum, glass, paperboard containers, and PET soda bottles).
  • Removing a consumer’s access to bottled water packaged in just one size or type of plastic container greatly increases the likelihood of them choosing a less healthy drink option packaged in a container that has more adverse environmental impacts.

Adding Water to MyPlate

Background

  • The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans are reviewed and renewed every 5 years.
  • The Guidelines encourage that calorie-free beverages—especially water—should be the primary beverages consumed.
  • What most Americans know about the Guidelines is from the MyPlate graphic.
  • The current graphic includes dairy (which should continue) but does not include any reference to water.
  • Adding a water symbol to MyPlate places a spotlight on the importance of drinking water and would be a key strategy in helping Americans to consider healthy beverage options, improve nutrition, and positively affect overall health.

Why add water to MyPlate?

  • MyPlate is the primary tool used to promote healthy eating choices, visible is many school cafeterias and doctors’ offices across the country. Yet it does not include any representation of water, which is essential for life.
  • We take water for granted! We often do not think about drinking water, or having access to healthy water, until it is too late.
  • 48 other countries include a graphic representation of water on their version of MyPlate.
  • Americans are chronically dehydrated, but this is most serious among children and those over 60 years old.
Current MyPlate nutrition graphic IBWA’s proposed MyPlate revision

There When You Need It

  • Bottled water is critical when tap water is contaminated.
  • The bottled water industry supports a strong public water system. However, the water from public water systems is often compromised after emergency situations or natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes, floods, tornados, fires, or boil alerts).
  • During such times, bottled water is the best option to deliver clean safe drinking water quickly into affected areas.
  • If bottled water—the most readily available packaging during times of need—isn’t available during times of crisis, it could result in an extremely dangerous situation for citizens in need and have a drastic effect on any city’s or state’s ability to respond in a timely and efficient manner.
  • The bottled water industry would not be able to provide safe, clean drinking water to citizens when their public water systems are compromised without a viable commercial market.
  • A viable commercial market for bottled water provides the industry with the capital and resources to respond quickly when needed.
  • The bottled industry cannot, and should not, exist only for disaster responses – something some critics of the bottled water industry desire.
  • Recent research has noted tap water systems being contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Attempts to prevent the procurement of bottled water would inhibit agencies located  in areas with compromised tap water systems from being able to purchase the bottled water.
  • Whether in times of emergency or when lacking access to clean tap water, bottled water is a necessary and reliable option to deliver clean, safe drinking water.
  • Any proposed legislation that attempts to prevent the procurement of bottled water fails to plan for times of emergency when having access to bottled water is most critical.