Business is booming for bottled water — unfortunately, it’s a business that is draining the world’s water supply and filling our oceans and landfills with mountains of plastic waste, as a recent report documented.
The bottled water market continues to grow — with more than one million plastic bottles sold every minute — and it doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.
The United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health released a report on the global bottled water industry — and the findings are staggering.
The plastic water bottle industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, with sales growing by 73% from 2010 to 2020. The report estimated that global sales surpassed 92 billion gallons in 2021, valued at around $270 billion.
Why is a booming bottled water industry concerning?
This growth in plastic water bottle usage is concerning for two reasons: groundwater extraction and single-use plastic.
According to the report, more than two billion people count on groundwater as their main drinking water source. Groundwater is also a significant source of bottled water, and many drought-stricken areas are already dealing with a depleted groundwater supply.
In 2021, water withdrawals by Nestlé and Coca-Cola — two of the top three companies in revenue from bottled water sales — were estimated to be about 26 billion and 79 billion gallons, respectively.
“While such withdrawals are small in absolute terms, local impacts on water resources may be significant,” the report said.
About 600 billion plastic bottles and containers were produced by the water bottle industry in 2021, according to the report. Those plastic bottles resulted in over 27 million tons of plastic waste — much of which ends up in landfills.
A report by Greenpeace suggested that plastic recycling in the U.S. is a “failed concept.” In 2021, U.S. households reportedly produced 51 million tons of plastic waste, but only around 2.4 million tons were recycled, Greenpeace reported.
Plastic trash that doesn’t end up being recycled or in landfills finds its way into oceans. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, at least 14 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean every year.
What can we do?
The easiest way to fight the issue is to cut back on buying plastic bottles. It’s estimated the average American can save $1,200 a year by switching from plastic water bottles to reusable ones. You can buy an eco-friendly reusable bottle for about the same price as a 40-pack of plastic water bottles.
Nonprofit organizations like The Ocean Project are literally pulling boatloads of plastic waste out of the ocean, so donating to one you like is super helpful.
If you can’t quit that plastic bottle habit quite yet, buying large containers instead of single-serving bottles is cheaper and produces less waste — and remember to get those bottles into the recycling bin.
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