Apr 19, 2011

Bottled Water Recycling Rates Improving

Reports show increase in recycling, decrease in use of PET resin

Commemoration of Earth Day 2011, celebrated on April 22, includes good news for those concerned about recycling empty plastic water bottles, according to the International Bottled Water Assn. (IBWA). PET plastic bottled water containers are again the single most recycled item in nationwide curbside collection programs, and their recycled rate has grown to 31%.

This positive news about PET plastic bottle recycling on Earth Day 2011 comes from the National Assn. for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), which completed a major bale study last year in 15 locations in 14 states. The 31% recycling rate is up only slightly since last year, when the rate was 30.9%, but is still a major increase since this analysis commenced in 2004, when the recycling rate for PET plastic bottled water containers stood at 16.62%. The latest data indicate that the recycling rate for PET plastic bottled water containers has nearly doubled in six years.

As for making the plastic bottles lighter, analysis performed by the Beverage Marketing Corp. (BMC) for IBWA shows that over the past eight years the gram weight of the 16.9-oz “single-serve” bottled water container has dropped by 32.6%. The average PET bottled water container weighed 18.9 grams in 2000 and by 2009 the average amount of PET resin in each bottle has declined to 12.7 grams. In keeping with this year’s Earth Day theme of “A Billion Acts of Green,” BMC estimated that during this time span, more than 1.3 billion lb of PET resin has been saved by the bottled water industry through container light-weighting.

Improved recycling rates and lighter-weight containers are only part of the good news that the bottled water industry includes in its Earth Day 2011 commemoration. Last year, IBWA commissioned a Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) study to determine the environmental footprint of the United States bottled water industry. The results indicate that bottled water has a very small environmental footprint. The study found:

• The energy consumed to produce small pack water bottled water containers amounted to 0.067% of the total energy use in the United States in 2007;

• The bottled water industry’s combined greenhouse gas emissions amounted to 0.08% of total United States greenhouse gas emissions; and

• Bottled water packaging discards accounted for 0.64% of the 169 million tons of total U.S. municipal solid waste (MSW) discards in 2007.