Los Angeles International Airport ban on the sale of single-serving size PET plastic bottled water will produce more (not less) waste

Los Angeles International Airport ban on the sale of single-serving size PET plastic bottled water will produce more (not less) waste

Alexandria, VA –– The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) strongly opposes the recently approved ban on the sale of single-serving size PET plastic bottled water at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) because it is not in the public interest and it will produce more waste not less, which is contrary to the stated purpose of the sales ban.

The LAX single-serving size PET plastic bottled water sales ban effectively forces consumers to buy water packaged in materials that are heavier in weight and have a larger impact on the environment, such as aluminum, laminated cartons, and glass.

This ban also targets just one product: bottled water. It does not apply to other drinks also packaged in single-serving size PET plastic such as sodas, which are not only less healthy for consumers but also packaged in bottles that use approximately three times the amount of plastic.

Results from a Harris Poll found the following: Among bottled water drinkers who have a packaging preference (86 percent), nearly 8 out of 10 (79 percent) prefer it packaged in plastic bottles. Fifteen percent said glass, 4 percent said metal cans, and 2 percent said paper cartons or box. (For more information, visit https://bottledwater.org/nr/consumers-want-bottled-water-to-be-available-wherever-drinks-are-sold-and-if-its-not-most-will-choose-another-packaged-beverage-that-uses-much-more-plastic/.)

Taking away consumers’ preferred packaging and forcing them to buy water in less environmentally friendly containers will actually increase the amount of waste generated at LAX, not decrease it. In addition, because PET bottled water container production uses the least amount of resources, increasing purchases of beverages packaged in alternative materials such as aluminum, cartons, and glass also significantly increases the amount of greenhouse gases. (For details, see https://bottledwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Environmental_Impact_of_Drink_Packaging_2021_800.jpg.)

PET plastic bottled water containers are 100 percent recyclable, and PET plastic bottles are the most recognized and recycled bottles in the world. Glass and laminated beverage cartons are not always accepted by municipal and commercial recyclers, which means they end up in landfills instead of being recycled.

Bottled water that is packaged in PET plastic has the smallest environmental footprint and is the healthiest packaged beverage product available to consumers. Products such as carbonated soft drinks, juices, and other sugary beverages require far more plastic packaging due to carbonation and manufacturing processes (using at least 142 percent more plastic) and have a greater environmental impact than bottled water.

The Board of Airport Commissioners said it was “proud to take action to phase out single-use water bottles from LAX and VNY, simultaneously addressing climate change and taking a major step forward on LAWA’s waste-reduction goals.” However, IBWA disagrees. This bottled water sales ban is a misguided attempt at making a real difference and will be ineffectual in achieving its goal of reducing waste.

In oral testimony, IBWA strongly urged the Board of Airport Commissioners to reconsider this proposal and not move forward with a ban on the sale of bottled water in plastic packaging because:

  • other beverage choices that will still be allowed for sale, including those in plastic, as well as any beverage sold in glass, aluminum, and carton containers are not as environmentally friendly as bottled water.
  • prohibiting the sale of bottled water in plastic containers will lead to individuals choosing    less healthy beverages.

In electing to eliminate the use of single-serve plastic bottled waters, Los Angeles International Airport is removing the most environmentally friendly packaging option for beverages. A recent report from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), 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 ACC report concluded that, when comparing materials throughout the entire life cycle of a package, plastics leave a much smaller     environmental footprint than alternatives, such as glass, aluminum cans, and paperboard cartons. Perhaps the most significant finding from the ACC report is that alternatives to plastic beverage containers would produce about 60 percent more greenhouse gas emissions—a major contributor to climate change.

The ACC study data is consistent with the Life Cycle Assessment prepared by Trayak LLC for IBWA. In this assessment, Trayak measures several variables to determine the overall impact of specific packaging types, including PET water bottles, PET soda bottles, glass bottles, canned water, and beverage cartons. The variables measured include fossil fuel use, human impact, water use, mineral resource use, greenhouse gas emissions, and freshwater ecotoxicity and eutrophication. The assessment shows that PET water bottles have a lower environmental impact than the other containers across each of the considered indicators. Much of this benefit is derived from the low material usage compared to the other container types, with the average PET water bottle considered using less than half of the material weight of the other container types. Lower material usage means less impact from material extraction, manufacturing, and ultimately results in less material entering landfills or needing to be recycled.

All bottled water containers are 100 percent recyclable—even the caps, and, as an industry, IBWA supports strong community recycling initiatives and recognize that a continued focus on increased recycling is important for everyone. In addition, PET bottled water containers are the most recognized and most recycled containers in curbside programs, making up nearly 55 percent of all PET plastic beverage containers collected.

The industry is always looking for ways to strengthen existing recycling programs and help expand recycling efforts ever further. However, even when they are not properly recycled, individual serving size PET plastic bottled water containers make up only 3.3 percent of all drink  packaging in U.S. landfills. Soda PET plastic containers make up 13.3 percent, and aluminum cans make up 7.9 percent.

Bottled water also has the lowest water- and energy-use ratios of all packaged beverages. On average, it takes only 1.39 liters of water to produce 1 liter of finished bottled water (including the 1 liter of water consumed), which is the lowest water-use ratio of any packaged beverage product. And on average, only 0.21 mega joules of energy are used to produce 1 liter of bottle of water.

While bottled water is just one of thousands of consumer items packaged in plastic, the bottled water industry has also gone to great lengths to reduce the environmental impact of its packaging, including developing new technologies in product packaging such as the use of recycled content, reduction of plastic used in caps and shrink-wrapping, and reduction of paper used in labels and shipping cardboard. IBWA member companies are increasing their use of recycled PET (rPET), and many bottled water companies already use bottles made from 50, 75, and, in some cases, 100 percent rPET. Furthermore, 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 product to market.

Bottled water companies have also reduced the environmental footprint of their plastic containers by continual light-weighting of PET bottled water plastic packaging, which has resulted in the average weight drop to 8.3 grams per 16.9 oz single-serve container. That is almost one-third 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, 22.2 grams.

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 what the delivery method. Bottled water is a smart decision and a healthy choice when it comes to beverage options.

In fact, since 2010, approximately 44 percent of the growth in bottled water consumption has come from people switching from carbonated soft drinks, juices, and milk to bottled water. One of the simplest changes a person can make is to switch to drinking water instead of other beverages that are heavy with sugar and calories. According to 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 percent. 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––tap, bottled, or filtered––can only benefit those efforts.


Media contact:

Jill Culora