NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 4, 2009

The annual consumption of bottled water in the United States in 2007 required the equivalent of between 32 and 54 million barrels of oil -- roughly one-third of a percent of total U.S. primary energy consumption, according to a new study by the Pacific Institute's Peter H. Gleick and Heather Cooley, published in the February 2009 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters.

Other findings:

  • Bottled water is up to 2000 times more energy-intensive than tap water.
  • Similarly, bottled water that requires long-distance transport is far more energy-intensive than bottled water produced and distributed locally.

As bottled water use continues to expand around the world, there is growing interest in the environmental, economic, and social implications of that use, including concerns about waste generation, proper use of groundwater, hydrologic effects on local surface and groundwater, economic costs, and more.  But a key concern is how much energy is required to produce and use bottled water, say Gleick and Cooley.

The authors note that a single estimate of the energy footprint of bottled water is not possible due to differences among water sources, bottling processes, transportation costs and other factors.  Gleick and Cooley calculate the energy requirements for various stages in bottled water production, including the energy to manufacture the plastic bottles, process the water and the bottles, and transport and cool the final product:

  • Combining the energy intensities for these stages, the analysis finds that producing bottled water requires between 5.6 and 10.2MJ per liter -- as much as 2000 times the energy cost of producing tap water.
  • The authors further estimate that to satisfy global demands, the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil per year is used just to produce the bottles, primarily made of PET plastic, almost all of which are currently made from virgin, not recycled, material.

With the U.S. consumption of bottled water exceeding 33 billion liters a year, and with intensifying efforts to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, these data should help identify ways to reduce the energy costs of bottled water and may help consumers themselves make more environmentally sustainable choices, says Cooley.

Source: Press Release, "New Study Reports Bottled Water Use 2000 Times More Energy Intensive than Tap," Pacific Institute, February 24, 2009; based upon: P.H. Gleick and H.S. Cooley, "Energy Implications of Bottled Water," Environmental Research Letters, February 19, 2009.

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