Bottled water: The environmental consequences

There’s no question that the growing demand for bottled water – currently about 114 billion cubic metres per year – is an environmental issue. Withdrawal of mineral or spring water from natural sources can threaten streams and groundwater. The bottles themselves are made from millions of tonnes of plastics, typically polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Around 31 billion 1-litre water bottles are being consumed annually in the USA alone, requiring more than 17 million barrels of oil to produce. And most PET bottles also contain bisphenol A, an endocrine disruptor that has been linked to cancers, diabetes, and neurological and reproductive problems.

Most of these water bottles are not recycled, but go to landfill or are dumped into the oceans, where they can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. And of all the PET bottles that are sent to recycling – about a third globally – many are shipped around the world for processing into lesser-quality plastics.

Then there’s the energy required to ship water around the world, not to mention refrigerate it. Can it really be sustainable to transport water the 9,000 kilometres from Fiji to California or the 16,500 from Fiji to Paris? And it takes water to produce bottled water – about 3 litres per 1 litre bottled.

Bottled water is also incredibly expensive – at least a thousand times the cost of municipal water. Ironically, up to 40 per cent of water bottled in the USA comes from municipal taps anyway!

T R UNEP Topham

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This post is also available in: French, Spanish