Integrity of Science: Bottled Water and Energy Factsheet: Getting to 17 Million Barrels

Published: December 2007

Authors: The Pacific Institute

Pages: 2



This case study was originally published in the Pacific Institute’s Integrity of Science Blog (2006-2007).



The Pacific Institute finds that it took approximately 17 million barrels of oil equivalent to produce plastic for bottled water consumed by Americans in 2006—enough energy to fuel more than 1 million American cars and light trucks for a year. The widely cited 1.5 million barrel statistic is an error, the result of a miscommunication between a journalist and a researcher in 2003. That researcher and others now stand by this updated assessment.



As concern about the cost and environmental impact of bottled water grows, so does our understanding of the true nature of that impact. In 2007, media focus shifted to the energy involved in producing bottled water. A high profile New York Times editorial cited that an estimated 1.5 million barrels of oil equivalent were needed to produce the bottles for annual U.S. bottled water consumption. This analysis did not jibe with that of the Pacific Institute or the Container Recycling Institute, both of whom have been researching bottled water for several years. A more recent, detailed assessment conducted by the Pacific Institute concludes the actual number is more than 10 times the incorrect figure. Approximately 17 million barrels of oil equivalent were needed to produce the plastic water bottles consumed by Americans in 2006—enough energy to fuel more than one million cars for a year. The Earth Policy Institute and the Container Recycling Institute, to whom the error has been attributed, have reviewed the new calculation and acknowledge this higher value is the accurate estimate.


Bottled Water and Energy

Bottled water requires energy throughout its life cycle. Energy is required to capture, treat, and send water to the bottling plant; fill, package, transport, and cool the bottled water; and recycle or dispose of the empty containers. Calculating the total amount of energy needed is complicated by the location of the water source, the location of the consumer, the type of material and packaging, the method of transportation, and other factors. Our “Bottled Water and Energy Fact Sheet” addresses the energy required to make the plastic materials used, and then to fabricate that plastic into the actual bottles the U.S. consumes—only two of the many energy-intensive stages in a water bottle’s life cycle.