This might seem like a silly question, right? After all, we are talking about a bottle of water. Isn't the answer right there in the question?
The thing about producing bottled water is that not only are there wasteful (and toxic!) plastic and unhealthy carbon emissions to consider, but bottled water production actually uses a lot of water.
Bottled Water by the Numbers
NPR's The Salt dove into the bottled water issue recently, sharing some numbers from the International Bottled Water Association (IBA), who claims it takes 1.34 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water. So according to them it takes about 30 percent more water than just turning on the tap.
Thirty percent more might not sound that bad, but remember: the IBA is a lobby group for the bottled water industry. Trusting their numbers is like trusting Monsanto when they tell you that GMOs are safe or trusting McDonald's when they say they are helping their workers. What the IBA's number leaves out is all of the water used in the supply chain. Here are some examples of the bottled water supply chain:
- sourcing that water
- moving it from the source to the bottling plant
- sourcing the plastic for those bottles
- making bottles from the plastic
- creating labels and adhering them to the bottles
- bottling the water
- shipping those bottles to your store
When you take all of that into account,
NPR quotes Ertug Ercin from the Water Footprint Network who says:
"Packaging makes a significant footprint," he says, adding that three liters of water might be used to make a half-liter bottle. In other words, the amount of water going into making the bottle could be up to six or seven times what's inside the bottle.
Drilling for oil to make plastic, Ercin says, uses a substantial amount of groundwater. And you need water to make the paper, too, he adds. (emphasis mine)
Ercin does concede that producing bottled water is a bit less water-intensive than producing soda, because soda uses all of those resources plus the resources needed to make dyes, produce sugars and add carbonation.
So what's the best choice when it comes to staying hydrated? Good old tap water. If you're worried about the tap water quality on the road, there are water bottles out there that include a built-in filter! A little digging turned up this stainless steel filtered water bottle from Ecoflo, for example.
What do you think about the water footprint of bottled water? Does the IBA's 30 percent sound accurate, or does the WFN's six to seven times seem more correct?
Image Credit: Remixed Creative Commons photo by ToddMorris