Drink water instead of soda. It’s good for you and the environment. But, what if I said, drink bottled water instead of soda?
Two nights ago I saw a TV ad which made me cringe. The message was that if soda drinkers replaced just one can of soda with a bottle of water a day it would help them lose weight. Huh. This makes me crazy because drinking water is good advice. But, drinking bottled water is NOT good advice.
Our bodies need water, so if you’re on a five-soda-day-habit, replacing one of those sodas with water would probably reduce your calorie intake, hydrate you, and give your bodily functions a better chance to operate properly. However, if you’re just replacing an aluminum can (I instantly think of Chris Jordan’s Running the Numbers image which depicts 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every THIRTY SECONDS) with a plastic bottle (a Chris Jordan image depicting TWO MILLION plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every FIVE MINUTES) you’re not helping the environment, not one little bit.
Not Just Any Water: Tap Water
When I see cases of bottled water sitting in someone’s garage I think: Madison Ave has won. Bottled water can cost anywhere from 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water, which is pennies a gallon.
And, it’s not just the cost:
- Plastic can leach into bottled water.
- Fossil fuels are the key component in the production of plastic bottles which contain the chemical PET or polyethylene terephthalate which is derived from crude oil. The production of plastic bottles uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel more than one million U.S. cars for a year!
- And, let’s not forget transportation CO2 emissions from the source to distribution centers or retailers.
- Or, bottle afterlife, which starts almost immediately. Did you know that 8 out of 10 plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or end up in a landfill?
What two words can make all of these issues go away: tap water.
Now, I know there are some places, such as an airport, or in third-world countries where bottle water is necessary, but in many instances of everyday life it is not. Tap water saves money, is on par or sometimes better than bottled water, does not create much in the way of CO2 emissions, or use fossil fuels, or clog landfills.
How Do the Carbon Emissions Pencil Out?
You knew it would come to this.
Bottled Water is more than 1,000 times more carbon intensive than its tap alternative.*
If there are 160 grams per 16 oz bottle of greenhouse gasses generated (CO2, methane and nitrous oxide)* and 128 oz in a gallon (8 x 16 ounce=gallon) then 160 grams x 8 equal 1,280 grams of greenhouse gasses per gallon, so annually, 1,280 grams of greenhouse gasses per gallon multiplied by 30.8 gallons (average amount of bottled water consumed per person in 2012) = 39,424 grams (86.9 pounds!) of greenhouse gasses per year per person.
Tap Water is not a major carbon concern for most North Americans.*
For every 16 oz of tap water .12 grams of greenhouse gasses are generated.* .12 grams x 8 equal .96 grams of greenhouse gasses per gallon, so annually, .96 grams/gallon multiplied by 30.8 gallons = 29.6 grams (0.065 pound) of greenhouse gasses per year per person. Not even a pound. Nice. Much more sustainable.* How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee
Can We Get Off the Bottle?
BevNet: “A new report from the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) states that in 2012, overall consumption of bottled water jumped by 6.2 percent to 9.67 billion gallons, while sales increased by 6.7 percent, totaling $11.8 billion. The statistics were compiled by beverage consulting firm Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC).
With every American consumer drinking an average of 30.8 gallons of bottled water last year, the report stated that per-capita consumption of bottled water was up 5.3 percent in 2012, and that the beverage increased in absolute volume more than any other beverage category in the U.S.”
ScienceBlogs: “The vast increase in bottled water sales have largely come at the expense of tap water, not soft drinks. And even if we pushed (as we should) to replace carbonated soft drinks with water, it should be tap water, not expensive bottled water.”
Based on those two quotes above, bottled water is here to stay. But, only because people are willing to pay through-the-nose for convenience and, I guess, aren’t thinking of the consequences (draining fossil fuel supplies, clogging landfills and whatnot). Is filling a reusable container with tap water really that inconvenient when you look the environmental consequences of bottled water?