Alexandria, VA – Earth Day’s theme this year is #InvestInOurPlanet––a concept the bottled water industry has been following for decades, says the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).
Bottled water companies care deeply about resource conservation and the environmental impact of their products and packaging. Read on to learn six facts that you may not know about the bottled water industry.
Fact #1. Small plastic user
The bottled water industry is not a major plastic user. Bottled water is just one of the thousands of food products packaged in 100% recyclable plastic. Even though bottled water consumption continues to grow, the overall amount of plastic used in these products has decreased due to the light-weighting of plastic bottled water containers.
Of all the plastic items produced in the United States, bottled containers account for 1.58%. And because bottled water containers are 100% recyclable, they don’t fit into the “single-use” category, which are non-recyclable common plastic items (e.g., straws, cutlery, and plates); certain food and goods packaging (e.g., film, heat-sealed and multi-layered laminate bags); and other containers (e.g., non-PET, non-HDPE, and non-PC bottles and tubs). Single-use plastic items that do not have a recycling symbol are not recyclable. However, individual-sized bottled water containers and larger-sized bottles—such as 1-, 2.5-, 3-, and 5-gallon containers—are all 100% recyclable and can be used again and again to create new products, including new bottled water containers. Using 100% recyclable packaging and reducing plastic use by light-weighting containers are ways bottled water companies #InvestInOurPlanet.
Fact #2. Higher than average recycling rates
Bottled water containers are among the easiest packaging types to recycle and make up 49% of all PET plastic beverage containers collected in curbside programs in the United States. Overall, all PET plastic bottles and jars have a recycling rate of 29.1%, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On that same EPA webpage, the agency reports the recycling rate for ALL plastic (PET, HDPE, PP, etc.) is 8.7%.
Bottled water containers are 100% recyclable—even the caps—and PET bottled water containers are the most recognized and recycled containers. Even though bottled water containers have a higher recycling rate than other beverage containers in curbside programs, we know there’s work to be done to improve recycling rates for all plastics, including PET and HDPE. IBWA, with its partner organizations, launched a PutItInTheBin.org campaign to teach consumers about the right ways to recycle. Educating consumers about the value of recycling is another way IBWA and our partners #InvestInOurPlanet.
Fact #3. Smallest environmental footprint of all packaged drinks
Of all packaged drinks—including those packaged in aluminum, paperboard cartons, glass, and even PET soda bottles—PET bottled water has the smallest environmental footprint. Here’s why: PET water bottles use less than half of the material weight of all those other packaging types. For comparison, a PET bottled water container weighs, on average, 8.8 grams; a PET soda bottle weighs 22.2 grams, due to carbonation and manufacturing processes. Lower material usage means less impact from material extraction, manufacturing, and ultimately results in less material entering landfills or needing to be recycled. A graphic IBWA produced explains the life-cycle details quite well.
Environmental stewardship is part of the bottled water industry’s history, and protecting, maintaining, and preserving water resources for future generations is something we take very seriously. Through our environmental sustainability efforts, the bottled water industry can meet the consumer demand for good-tasting, safe bottled water products while:
- managing water collection in a manner ensuring the long-term viability of the watershed
- using as little packaging as possible, leveraging new technologies and/or renewable resources to maximize the conservation of non-renewable resources
- working with government, industry, and public interest groups to promote and increase bottled water packaging recycling and reuse for home-and-office delivery products
- minimizing energy use in the production and distribution of bottled water while selecting renewable energy sources wherever possible
- seeking to reduce the impact on the environment as much as possible at every step in the bottled water life cycle.
Production practices that actively focus on environmental stewardship is another way bottled water companies #InvestInOurPlanet.
Fact #4. Bottled water drinkers litter less
A recent litter study revealed that bottled water drinkers litter less than those who consume most other beverages. The Keep America Beautiful 2020 National Litter Study (https://kab.org/litter/litter-study/) sorted and counted litter by container type. The “litter rate” for the following drinks (per 1,000 drinks sold) is:
- Liquor and Wine – 47.6
- Beer – 17.2
- Sports and Energy Drinks – 9.2
- Soda – 5
- Juice – 3.6
- Bottled Water – 3.4
- Tea and Coffee – 1.7
Bottled water drinkers littering less than most other beverages makes sense. They drink water instead of other less healthy drinks because they care about their health, and they hang on to their containers to recycle, either at home or on the go, because they care about the environment. Encouraging healthy hydration and recycling habits is another way IBWA members #InvestInOurPlanet.
Fact #5. Bottled water containers are not a major source of ocean pollution and microplastics
If the United States were to completely eliminate ALL plastic use, the effort would only result in a 0.25% reduction of ocean plastics, data from Oxford University’s Our World In Data website shows (https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/share-of-global-plastic-waste-emitted-to-the-ocean?tab=table&country=Africa~Asia~Europe~South+America~North+America~Oceania). And as stated earlier, bottled water accounts for less than 1.58% of all plastics used in the United States, so we are talking about 1.58% of 0.25%.
The latest research on microplastic particles in oceans reveals that they originate from wastewater from washing machines—not bottled water production. Read more here. (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-43023-x )
It is important to note that there is currently no scientific consensus on the potential health impacts of microplastic particles, which are found in all aspects of our environment—soil, air, and water.
Fact# 6. Water used by bottled water companies is replenishable
Bottled water companies are continuously dependent upon a safe, fresh, and replenishable supply of water. Contrary to many false claims, bottled water companies do not drain aquifers and/or surface waters, or use more water than can be replenished. The water sources used by bottled water companies must be renewable to justify the investment that bottled water manufacturers make to bring the source to market. As such, bottled water companies are continuously developing innovative and efficient ways to use and conserve this critical resource. These measures include:
- auditing total water use at bottled water facilities
- reducing water extraction through improved water processing and bottling processes
- looking for leaks in all plant piping and tanks
- planting drought-resistant vegetation at bottling facilities
- training employees to be good stewards of the environment and encouraging water conservation
- implementing water use restrictions at their facilities
- using efficient cleaning methods inside plants to reduce water usage when cleaning reusable 3- and 5-gallon bottles for water coolers used in homes and offices
- reducing water use when cleaning and sterilizing water pipes and storage tanks
- managing water withdrawals in a manner that ensures the long-term viability of water sources
- using hydro-geological evaluations on springs to assess any potential impact on local groundwater levels and stream flows.
Water conservation is another way that bottled water companies #InvestInOurPlanet.
IBWA’s position is that water is always the best and healthiest choice for hydration—whether it’s bottled water, filtered water, or tap water—and people should always be encouraged to drink any of these types of water.
For seven consecutive years, bottled water has been America’s favorite packaged drink for a reason: It’s healthy, safe, convenient, and reliable—and bottled water containers are 100% recyclable, including the caps. Beverage Marketing Corporation projects bottled water’s market share will continue to grow, as more and more consumers choose bottled water over less-healthy drinks.
So, what can people do to help reduce the impact of plastic on the environment?
- Shop wisely. Buy products that are packaged in 100% recyclable containers and packaging.
- Make a pledge to always recycle all your recyclable plastic food and beverage containers.
The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is the authoritative source of information about all types of bottled waters, including spring, mineral, purified, artesian, and sparkling. Founded in 1958, IBWA’s membership includes U.S. and international bottlers, distributors and suppliers. IBWA is committed to working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates bottled water as a packaged food product, to set comprehensive and stringent standards for safe, high-quality bottled water products.
In addition to FDA regulations, IBWA member bottlers must adhere to the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice, which mandates additional standards and practices that in some cases are more stringent than federal and state regulations. A key feature of the IBWA Bottled Water Code of Practice is a mandatory annual plant inspection by an independent, third-party organization.