Twice in one week the LA Times has attempted to cast bottled water as the antihero of California’s ongoing drought, which is both false and misleading. False, because the amount of all groundwater used for bottled water production barely registers on the radar of California groundwater use, and misleading because it just feeds into a mythology of “big water.”
Both “Who is taking California’s water?” and the opinion piece, “The invisible high price of your little bottle,” make numerous claims that have no place in fact. They claim that bottled water somehow contributes to the state’s drought, is a wasteful use of resources, and is unnecessary. All these assertions are false, biased, and misleading. That the LA Times, a respected new outlet, would promote such obvious inaccuracies is equally unfortunate.
Bottled water production from groundwater sources accounts for less than 0.02 percent of the total groundwater withdrawn in the U.S. each year. California almond growers alone use 1.1 trillion gallons of groundwater annually. That’s about 10% of the state’s water usage. However, the entire U.S. bottled water market is only about 10 billion gallons.
All bottlers adhere to federal, state, and local regulations, which may include withdrawal limits and fees, taxes, local regulatory oversight, and applicable facility monitoring and inspection.
100% of bottled water is intended for human consumption, the highest and most efficient use of water. Conversely, only about 2% of tap water is actually consumed. The rest is used in agriculture, households, and for industrial applications.
The bottled water industry is very efficient in its use of water. In 2013, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) released a water use benchmarking study, showing that the amount of water used to produce bottled water products is less than all other types of packaged beverages; on average, only 1.39 liters per liter of finished bottled water (including the liter of water consumed).
In addition, nearly all of the bottled water sold in the U.S. is sourced domestically. The vast majority of bottled water companies in the U.S. are small, community-based businesses using local water sources and distributing their products within an average radius of 300 miles from their bottling facilities. The reality is that imported bottled water accounts for only 1.3% of the U.S. market.
The bottled water industry has a long and deeply-held tradition of effectively and responsibly protecting and managing our vital natural resources and this commitment to environmental excellence holds true wherever bottled water facilities are located. We also take our environmental footprint seriously. In fact, bottled water’s environmental footprint is the lowest of any packaged beverage according to a life cycle assessment conducted by Quantis in 2010.
All bottled water containers are 100% recyclable, and data derived from EPA figures demonstrates that plastic water bottles actually make up less than one-third of one percent of the U.S. waste stream. Also, the PET plastic used in single-serve bottled water containers is made using naphtha, a petroleum byproduct, not barrels of virgin oil, as both articles claim.
Consumers are not buying bottled water because of some elaborate marketing campaign; they are choosing bottled water instead of less healthy packaged beverages. Most people who drink bottled water also drink tap water, and that’s fine as far as we are concerned. Water is the healthiest beverage, and bottled water provides consumers with a safe, convenient, refreshing, and responsible choice.
You can learn more at www.bottledwater.org.