Pacific Institute

Energy implications of bottled water

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Courtesy of Pacific Institute

As bottled water use continues to expand around the world, there is growing interest in the environmental, economical, and social implications of that use, including concerns about waste generation, proper use of groundwater, hydrologic effects on local surface and groundwater, economic costs, and more. A key concern is how much energy is required to produce and use bottled water. This paper estimates the energy footprint required for various phases of bottled water production, transportation, and use. We do not develop a single comprehensive life-cycle energy estimate because of differences among water sources, bottling processes, transportation costs, and other factors, but we quantify key energy inputs necessary for site-specific assessments. We also apply these inputs to three site-specific examples of the energy required from production to the point of use: local bottled water produced and used in Los Angeles, water bottled in the South Pacific and shipped by cargo ship to Los Angeles, and water bottled in France and shipped in various ways to Los Angeles. For water transported short distances, the energy requirements of bottled water are dominated by the energy used to produce the plastic bottles.  Long-distance transport, however, can lead to energy costs comparable to, or even larger than, those of producing the bottle. All other energy costs—for processing, bottling, sealing, labeling, and refrigeration—are far smaller than those for the production of the bottle and transportation. These data can be used to generate specific estimates for different sources, treatments, and delivery options.

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