There are plenty of reasons to avoid bottled water: contamination and disease issues, limited freshwater supply—and now energy concerns. Researchers Peter Gleick and Heather Cooley at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, CA have completed the first comprehensive, peer-reviewed energy analysis of bottled water, and the results aren't pretty.
Producing just one bottle of water requires between 5.2 and 10.2 million joules of energy per liter—2,000 times the energy needed to produce tap water, which uses only 0.0005 joules per liter. The numbers are even more disturbing on a large scale. US consumers bought over 33 billion liters of bottled water in 2007, requiring 32-53 million barrels of oil, or one-third of one percent of total US energy consumption. That's a lot of oil wasted on what we can get for free out of the tap.
Bottled-water lovers who just can't wean themselves off the energy-sucking stuff should at least stick to locally-produced brands, according to Gleick and Cooley. For purified water distributed within Los Angeles, 1.4 million joules per liter of energy are used for transportation. In comparison, spring water shipped from Fiji to LA requires 4 million joules per liter, and spring water sent from France to LA uses 5.8 million joules per liter.
Still unconvinced? 25 percent of bottled water is actually just tap water in a bottle, and oftentimes isn't even treated. And tap water in the US has more stringent treatment standards than bottled water anyway. Bottled water companies have reason to be worried. Sales have been spiraling downward in the past few years—largely thanks to environmental and health concerns.
Related: Message in a Bottle [From Issue 117 | July 2007]