Tap water life cycle assessment misses the point of bottled water

Alexandria, VA –– A new study that claims to examine the health and environmental impacts of drinking water choices is significantly flawed because it uses calculations that are based on the hypothetical, and entirely unrealistic, premise that people will drink only tap water, only bottled water, or only filtered tap water. The study’s authors themselves noted their scenarios are extreme and “may not be probable,” a critical fact, which is not being reported by news media covering this so-called research.  

The study is clearly biased against bottled water. That fact is made clear by the authors’ decision to cite a long-time bottled water critic yet not reach out for comment from the industry. The authors’ bias against bottled water is further demonstrated by their attempt to downplay the study’s findings that there are higher rates of bladder cancer and lower life expectancies among tap water drinkers.

Here are the facts:

  • The drinking water choices study is based on the hypothetical, and entirely unrealistic, premise that people will drink only tap water, only bottled water, or only filtered tap water. However, results from IBWA’s independent Harris Poll show that most bottled water drinkers (71%) drink both tap and bottled water. That same poll reveals that people are consuming bottled water when they are out and about instead of choosing less healthy calorie-laden beverages. Only (18%) of those polled said they drink “only” bottled water. And only 10% said they only drink tap or filtered tap water.

Those results indicate that most bottled water drinkers are “water” drinkers in general, preferring to consume a calorie- and additive-free beverage instead of other packaged drinks, especially when away from home.

Sales data support the statement that consumers prefer to drink bottled water, as soda and juice sales have declined during the past decade while bottled water sales have increased. In fact, since 2010, approximately 44% of the growth in bottled water consumption in the United States has come from people switching from carbonated soft drinks and juices to bottled water, according to Beverage Marketing Corporation sales data. (See: https://bottledwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/2020BWstats_BMC_pub2021BWR.pdf)

  • Drinking zero-calorie beverages, such as water, instead of sugary drinks is regularly cited as a key component of a more healthful lifestyle. Promoting greater consumption of water from all sources––tap, bottled, or filtered––can only benefit those efforts. One of the simplest changes a person can make is to switch to drinking water instead of other beverages that are laden with sugar and calories. Bottled water is a smart decision and a healthy choice when it comes to beverage options.

Given the critical importance of proper hydration, and the increase in obesity and diabetes rates worldwide, any efforts to discourage people from drinking bottled water are not in the public interest.

  • Consumers choosing bottled water over other packaged beverages is actually having a beneficial impact on the environment. Because, in addition to being the healthiest packaged beverage product, bottled water that is packaged in PET plastic has the smallest environmental footprint of all packaged drinks. 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% more plastic) and have a greater environmental impact than bottled water. (See here: https://bottledwater.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Environmental_Impact_of_Drink_Packaging_2021_800.jpg)

That means bottled water drinkers are making a choice that is both good for their health and the environment.

  • All bottled water containers are 100% 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.
  • Nine out of 10 Americans (91%) expect bottled water to be available wherever other drinks are sold, according to a survey conducted on behalf of IBWA by The Harris Poll. The current 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 (See: 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/) 

Bottled water is America’s favorite drink for a reason: it is a safe, convenient, great tasting alternative to other less healthy packaged drinks. Research shows that attempts to deter people from enjoying bottled water will lead them to consume less healthy beverages that contain unwanted sugar, caffeine, or other additives. And the packaging used for those other drinks has a greater impact on the environment. With the high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in the world, discouraging people from choosing the healthiest drink option is not in the public interest.


Media contact:

Jill Culora