How to conserve water resources to reduce environmental impact

July 28, 2023
Taking a look at how bottled water companies turn to renewable resources for their business.

Water footprints are quickly becoming focal points in our society as concerns about climate change-related water shortages continue to grow globally. When the topic is packaged beverages, research has shown that bottled water uses the smallest amount of water of all packaged drinks. Bottled water uses just 1.39 liters per liter produced—and that includes the 1 liter consumed. And, unlike tap water, 100% of the water packaged as bottled water is intended for human consumption.  

When you look at the bigger picture and compare the bottled water industry’s overall water use to other water users, you will see that bottled water production uses an extremely small amount of water. Of all the water used in the United States, just 0.01% is used to produce bottled water (includes production and bottle contents). 

How do we know this is accurate? Each year, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) reports sales and production volume data provided by a third-party research firm, Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC). IBWA uses BMC’s data with a water use ratio figure for bottled water (1.39 L/L) from a life cycle analysis (LCA) study of bottled water, also produced by a third-party (Antea Group), to estimate total water use for the industry in the United States. 

The U.S. bottled water industry produced 15.88 billion gallons of water in 2022, according to BMC. We multiplied that number by 1.39 (the water use ratio) to get 22.07 billion gallons used by the bottled water industry in a year.  

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGC) website has data on water use in the United States. United States Geological Survey (USGS) data show that total water withdrawals were 322 billion gallons per day in 2015 (the latest data available). Thus, if the bottled water industry uses 22.07 billion gallons in a year, that is 0.06 billion gallons a day, which is 0.01% of all water withdrawals. (Note: If we were to use 2015 bottled water use data, this number would be even smaller.) 

Sustainable solutions

Bottled water companies are continuously dependent upon a safe, fresh, and replenishable supply of water. Contrary to many false claims often spread on social media, bottled water companies do not drain aquifers and/or surface waters or use more water than can be replenished.  

The water sources used by bottled water companies must be renewable to justify the large investment that bottled water manufacturers make to bring their products to market. As such, bottled water companies are continuously developing innovative and efficient ways to use and conserve this critical resource. Those measures include: 

  • using hydro-geological evaluations on springs to assess any potential impact on local groundwater levels and stream flows 
  • managing water withdrawals in a manner that ensures the long-term viability of water sources 
  • reducing water extraction through improved water processing and bottling processes 
  • auditing total water use at bottled water facilities 
  • implementing water use restrictions at those facilities to comply with water rationing during drought or low regional water supply conditions 
  • looking for leaks in all plant piping and tanks 
  • using efficient cleaning methods inside plants to reduce water usage when cleaning reusable 3- and 5-gallon bottles for water coolers used in homes and offices 
  • reducing water use when cleaning and sterilizing water pipes and storage tanks 
  • planting drought-resistant vegetation at bottling facilities 
  • training employees to be good stewards of the environment and encouraging water conservation 

IBWA actively assists its members in being the best water stewards by providing best practices guides and frameworks, created by the Antea Group. The guides focus on five topic areas: 

  • Equipment checks and process controls 
  • Meter use and water mapping 
  • Water recycling and reuse 
  • Training and education 
  • Supply monitoring and management 

Utilizing IBWA guidance

IBWA’s guidance material is divided into three specific categories to suit the needs of the association’s diverse membership: one for companies just starting out, one for companies that have a water stewardship program, and one for companies that have well-established programs. 

IBWA’s Water Risk and Best Practices Report also identifies the many tools available to help members better understand opportunities for water conservation at bottling operations, including the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) True Cost of Water Toolkit. The toolkit provides the user with a facility-focused worksheet to calculate and estimate the true cost of water at defined “pinch points” within a typical beverage facility. It provides general overview calculations and supporting information for how to populate the tool and interpret results. 

IBWA offers its members educational opportunities to assist them with their water stewardship efforts. In fact, at the upcoming 2023 IBWA Annual Business Conference and Trade Show, which is being held in Las Vegas from September 11 – 14, in conjunction with PACK EXPO, Antea Group’s Caron Koll will give a session that focuses on understanding how per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) could impact members’ businesses from various sources, including water sources. She will also discuss handling and processing, and packaging; the current regulatory environment; and effective strategies and solutions to manage this emerging risk. 

Bottled water companies are continually focused on ensuring the safety of their water. Most people do not know that on a gallon for gallon basis, bottled water in the United States is tested 26 times more often than tap water. Many bottlers publish their water testing results online for easy consumer access. By U.S. federal law, bottled water that does not meet strict standards of quality (SOQs) implemented by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can be recalled and removed from store shelves. This contrasts with tap water, which is already distributed to people’s homes before they are alerted to a water quality problem. This is an important difference as PFAS contamination in public systems and private wells becomes more prevalent. 

Addressing PFAS

Currently, neither U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates tap water, or FDA, which regulates bottled water, has enforceable regulations for PFAS in drinking water. 

The EPA has a proposed regulation for six PFAS substances in tap water. By law, once the EPA PFAS regulation becomes final, FDA will have 180 days to either issue a corresponding regulation for bottled water or publish a rationale for why the EPA’s regulation is not applicable to bottled water. If FDA does neither within the prescribed time frame, then the EPA PFAS regulation will automatically become applicable to bottled water by operation of law. This ensures parity in the regulation of bottled water and tap water. 

While not required by FDA, IBWA requires its members to test for 18 PFAS substances in all the products they sell. In addition, IBWA member companies must meet the following SOQs for PFAS in their bottled water products: 

  • 5 parts per trillion (ppt) for detection of a single PFAS compound 
  • 10 ppt for detection of two or more PFAS compounds 

IBWA’s PFAS actions underscore the commitment of IBWA members to always provide consumers with the safest and highest-quality bottled water products. Testing for PFAS provides consumers, local and state governments, and disaster and emergency relief personnel with further assurance that bottled water is a safe and convenient product for everyday use and in times of need when tap water is compromised.  

In November 2019, IBWA asked FDA to establish a SOQ for PFAS in bottled water. FDA responded to IBWA’s request stating that “establishing an SOQ for PFAS in bottled water at this time would not significantly enhance FDA’s mission of public health protection.” This was based upon FDA’s testing and analysis of 30 different bottled water products, with none of them showing any detectable levels of PFAS. 

More recently in June of this year, the FDA released testing results for PFAS in fresh and processed foods and bottled water. The bottled water results were all negative. 

Each year, U.S. communities experience instances of compromised public water systems caused by emergencies such as boil alerts due to contaminated water, hurricanes, fires and floods. Every time this happens, people can be confident that IBWA member brand bottled water products offer a safe drinking water alternative. The bottled water industry has a proven record of being ready to help when emergencies and disastrous events occur, and bottled water companies donate millions of gallons of their products every year to help ensure a reliable source of drinking water is available for the public during and after emergencies. The bottled water industry is there when people need it most, but it is important to understand the industry can only help during these situations when the market is strong and viable throughout the year. 

For more information about bottled water, visit IBWA’s website:  

About the Author

Jill Culora

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