Myth busted: Increase in bottled water consumption positively – not negatively – impacts plastic waste

Myth busted: Increase in bottled water consumption positively – not negatively – impacts plastic waste

Citizens of the United States of America collectively saved 470 billion calories and 73 million pounds of recyclable PET plastic in 2018 by switching from packaged carbonated sugary drinks to bottled water.

According to Vending Market Watch, bottled water is America’s favorite packaged drink for the third year in a row (by volume), and new figures from the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC) show 69% of the growth in bottled water consumption has come from people shifting away from carbonated soft drinks and fruit drinks1.

Not only are the collective calorie savings enormous for people making the switch to water2, because bottled water containers, on average, use 59% less PET plastic than other beverages (9.89 grams vs. 23.9 grams for 16.9-ounce containers), there’s less PET coming into the system.

Soft drinks and other sugary beverages need thicker plastic containers due to their carbonation and/or bottling processes. Also, bottled water containers are 100% recyclable and also contain much less plastic than soda and other packaged beverages.

According to Vending Market Watch, the consumption shift from soda to bottled water means that recycling facilities need to recycle twice as many water bottles to get the same amount of resin they would have from soda bottles.

Bottled water is the most recycled product in curbside recycling systems in the USA, with a rate of 53.9% compared to soda bottles, which was 20.4%, according to a 2017 PET bale analysis study by the National Association for PET Container Resources.

It’s also incorrect to think that most people drink bottled water instead of tap water. In reality, most bottled water drinkers (76%) drink both tap water and bottled water3. Those results demonstrate that bottled water isn’t in competition with tap water; instead, it competes with other less-healthy packaged drinks, such as soft drinks, juices, and teas.

“Research into these phenomena has not yet been conducted in South Africa but it is fair to assume that similar results would be found in our country,” said South African National Bottled Water Association (SANBWA) Executive Director, Charlotte Metcalf.

“SANBWA has long maintained that the healthiest beverage option is water, and the healthiest packaged beverage option with the lowest environmental footprint is bottled water – especially if the packaging is recycled.

“There are numerous industries and associations that incorrectly pin up the bottled water industry as the ‘poster boy’ for environmental carelessness when SANBWA members are extremely mindful of their impact on the environment, and the sustainability – on all levels – of the industry.

“It is time to find truth and balance in the myriad calls for plastics to be replaced with alternatives or degradable versions. A holistic strategy that results in investing in solutions that most importantly encourage behaviour change coupled with the implementation of considered, well-thought-through new technologies are much closer to the answer,” Metcalf said.

“SANBWA works closely with industry and PETCO to ensure its members’ packaging commits to design for recycling criteria so that each bottle can be fully recycled. Members also support clean-ups, such as those run by PlasticsSA.”


1. BMC data shows Americans consumed 13.8 billion gallons of bottled water in 2018, up 4.9% from 2017. Bottled water’s wholesale dollar sales also grew in 2018, up 7.3% reaching $18.4 billion. And per capita consumption rose 4.3% to 42.3 gallons. Soda and fruit drink consumption both declined in 2018 from 2017.

2. “Given the fact that roughly 30% of US adults drink one or more servings of SSB/day (sugar-sweetened beverage/day), swapping water for SSB could reduce an estimated 3.9 billion calories from US adult diets daily,” Kiyah J. Duffey, Ph.D., reports in the journal Nutrients.

3. Harris Poll on bottled water consumption conducted for IBWA in November 2018.

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