Water Instead of Soda

bottled water

The production of plastic water bottles uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually.

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:

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?

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12 Responses to Water Instead of Soda

  1. Dana Berg says:

    Great post lo-carbon girl. I would like more water fountains, who took them all away? One that would be great is at the Winslow Farmer’s Market, there is already a faucet pump, we need to find a way to add a drinking fountain to it.

    • Jane says:

      Thanks! While I was researching this article, I saw a lot of discussion about the removal of water fountains. Maintenance was a problem and also the perceived health risk of using them, so people were using them less.

      • Green Gal says:

        Fortunately, at my university in California, there is a student group pushing to install more water bottle filling stations at the existing fountains. They are also working with maintenance to filter those fountains that currently produce gross-tasting water from a lack of clean pipes. If every city had a group dedicated to being advocates, perhaps more water fountains would be installed with bottle filling stations and regular filter checks!

        • Jane says:

          Green Gal,

          Somehow I feel we are sisters – sisters of sustainability. :-) Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing!! I’d love to start to change how people view bottled water – any packaging for that matter. Thx for your help.

        • Jane says:

          Glad to hear about efforts to champion bottle filling stations – great idea. Have you written about/photographed them? Love a link to share with others. Thx, Jane

  2. Darron says:

    A couple of days ago I decided to get a drinks bottle that I could put water in, rather than rely on a flask or bottled water. I found one that has a filter in it, so even those who think that tap water isn’t to their liking because of anything they think is in there that’s harmful. This is a plastic bottle, but it’s a durable one, with a filter that lasts for about 150 litres of water refills. The initial cost may be more than buying bottled water, but you’d need to pay over £50 ($70) for the water that I will get for only 12% of the cost. Carry it around empty and it’s light and you’d only need to find a water tap to fill it, not a shop selling bottles of the particular water you like. If you do want bottled water, do what I did and you’ll at least save some money.

    • Jane says:

      Thx for the tip. Glad to hear you’re using a reusable bottle and setting a good example for others. Best, Jane

  3. That TV ad would have riled me as well – thank for writing this! There’s also an infographic on http://www.ecofriendlylink.com/blog/stopbottledwater with some more facts, and I appreciate you highlighting the grim statistics in your article.
    Even in developing countries a water filter eliminates the need for bottled water (I can’t drink the tap water where I live now but a filter sorts it all out – with less money, no hassle carrying the bottles home from the shops, and considerably less environmental impact).
    I’m horrified that bottled water consumption is increasing, despite so many articles in the media and in green blogs like yours highlighting the problems.
    Thanks again for this info!

    • Jane says:

      Thanks Clare! There are so many mixed messages out there it’s no wonder some well-meaning people have a hard time picking the best option. The natural resources that go into making innocuous bottles and cans are staggering. Hopefully we can change our throw-away society to a sustainable one. Thx again. Jane

  4. Green Gal says:

    I often see commercials or other things in popular culture that make me cringe with their complete disregard for sustainable living… often those same ads do have a reasonable argument in some way and makes people think they’re a better option than something else. Thanks for addressing this example with such a thorough explanation of bottled water and its issues–really helpful resource to show those who still buy into the bottled water industry’s myths!

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