Fast Company

How Much Energy Goes Into Bottled Water? Hint: A Lot

2011188865_c77a902e73There 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]

[Via PhysOrg]

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4 Comments

  • Susanna Schick

    Local LA water? You mean imported from Oregon? If there's any place in the world where the carbon footprint of Fiji water is lighter than the water footprint of "local" water, I'd say it's California. Until we stop wasting water on cattle and other irresponsible water-wasting farm products, Southern Californians might just be better of sticking with Evian.

  • Tom Lauria

    Ariel Schwartz has set some kind of record for the most mistakes, errors and outright falsehoods in a single paragraph. He writes 25% of bottled water is just tap water and often isn't even treated. FDA's standards of Identity and Standards of Quality prevent that from happening. If the bottle is clearly labeled "Drinking Water", you may have a point. Otherwise, it's an utter falsehood. FDA's "Good Manufacturing Practices" for packaged food are every bit as tough as U.S. EPA and by law, both agencies are required to enforce equal protection to consumers. So Ariel is wrong again. Sales may be a bit flat due to the recession (affecting nearly every consumer product) and naturally activists are eager to take any credit for a downturn, but most people see the recession for what it is. In the same study by Peter Gleick, please look at his water usage charts to learn that bottled water has the smallest carbon footprint of any packaged beverage. This strange politically correct tangent against bottled water ignores its value to society; its life-saving benefit in disasters, its healthy role in an age of obesity and diabetes. Yes, we have health concerns that bottled water addresses. TOM LAURIA. VICE PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL BOTTLED WATES ASSN.

  • Tom Lauria

    Ariel Schwartz has set some kind of record for the most mistakes, errors and outright falsehoods in a single paragraph. He writes 25% of bottled water is just tap water and often isn't even treated. FDA's standards of Identity and Standards of Quality prevent that from happening. If the bottle is clearly labeled "Drinking Water", you may have a point. Otherwise, it's an utter falsehood. FDA's "Good Manufacturing Practices" for packaged food are every bit as tough as U.S. EPA and by law, both agencies are required to enforce equal protection to consumers. So Ariel is wrong again. Sales may be a bit flat due to the recession (affecting nearly every consumer product) and naturally activists are eager to take any credit for a downturn, but most people see the recession for what it is. In the same study by Peter Gleick, please look at his water usage charts to learn that bottled water has the smallest carbon footprint of any packaged beverage. This strange politically correct tangent against bottled water ignores its value to society; its life-saving benefit in disasters, its healthy role in an age of obesity and diabetes. Yes, we have health concerns that bottled water addresses. TOM LAURIA. VICE PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL BOTTLED WATES ASSN.

  • Tom Lauria

    Ariel Schwartz has set some kind of record for the most mistakes, errors and outright falsehoods in a single paragraph. He writes 25% of bottled water is just tap water and often isn't even treated. FDA's standards of Identity and Standards of Quality prevent that from happening. If the bottle is clearly labeled "Drinking Water", you may have a point. Otherwise, it's an utter falsehood. FDA's "Good Manufacturing Practices" for packaged food are every bit as tough as U.S. EPA and by law, both agencies are required to enforce equal protection to consumers. So Ariel is wrong again. Sales may be a bit flat due to the recession (affecting nearly every consumer product) and naturally activists are eager to take any credit for a downturn, but most people see the recession for what it is. In the same study by Peter Gleick, please look at his water usage charts to learn that bottled water has the smallest carbon footprint of any packaged beverage. This strange politically correct tangent against bottled water ignores its value to society; its life-saving benefit in disasters, its healthy role in an age of obesity and diabetes. Yes, we have health concerns that bottled water addresses. TOM LAURIA. VICE PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL BOTTLED WATES ASSN.