Tip of the Day


How many plastic water bottles are thrown away every day?

Using governmental and industry sources we calculate that at least 50 million plastic bottles are thrown away (not recycled) every day in the U.S.. Laid end to end, these bottles would stretch from San Francisco to New York city and back again. This is how we arrived at that number.
info graphic plastic water bottles thrown away every year
graphic from a 6th Grader, age 12
We looked at data from the EPA, the beverage industry, and the PET container industry associations. We used data from the industry associations because we figured that would give us a conservative number, or possibly less debatable number.

Our sources for this article include the Beverage Marketing Corporation, National Association of PET Container Resources, the U.S. Census 2010, and the EPA Municipal Solid Waste Fact Sheet for 2010. If you would like to do somethinng about this issue, think about getting a reusable water bottle.

Here are the key assumptions and other constraints. This is just for the United States. Plastic water bottles are a global issue, but for this article we looked at the U.S.. In the category of plastic water bottles, we'll focus on PET bottles, a particular kind of plastic. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, the share of the US Bottle Water market for PET was 63% in 2010. This is a percent of gallons consumed, 5.5 billion gallons in a total market of 8.7 billion gallons. Worth quoting are the comments on the fast growth in the use of PET bottles in this market (the bold and italics are ours for emphasis, the words are unchanged).

"Throughout most of the 1990s and 2000s, the retail premium PET segment - consisting of still water in single–serve polyethylene terephthalate bottles - drove the overall category's development. Indeed, the PET component enlarged by a double–digit percentage rate 16 consecutive times through 2007. Growth slowed markedly in 2008 before it disappeared in 2009. In 2010, PET's 6.7% increase outshone the 3.6% growth of the bottled water market as a whole. Also, PET volume in 2010 of 5.5 billion gallons stood more than 4.1 billion gallons higher than it had in 2000, and its share of total bottled water swelled from 29% to more than 63% during that 10–year period. Retail bulk volume growth slowed as more and more consumers selected convenient PET multipacks in large format retail channels instead of larger (1 to 2.5 gallon) sizes."

So not only is the bottled water market been growing over the last decade, the share of that market by PET bottles is increasing. So we'll focus on PET bottles…

"Thrown away" here means not recycled. The environmental impact of manufacturing the bottles (petroleum usage) and transporting them to market is clearly an issue, so even if every single plastic water bottle was recycled, the environmental impact of the plastic water bottle is significant. But we tried to look at what did not even get recycled. According to the EPA Municipal Solid Waste Factsheet for 2010, PET bottles and Jars are recycled at about a 21% rate, the lowest rate for all of their categories. Newspapers for instance are recycled at about 71%. According to the National Association for PET Container Resources, the recycle rate in 2010 was closer to 29% (by mass). We'll use the higher number.

We'll argue that the "throw away" waste stream is probably predominated by single use bottles of average volume 16oz.. Using the 5.5 billion gallons per year from the BMC, results in 44 billion water bottles per year. If we take the NAPCOR recycle rate of 29%, then 71% of these bottles are "thrown away". On a daily basis that is 85 million PET water bottles every day. We will round this down significantly and say that "At least 50 million plastic water bottles are thrown away in the U.S. every day.".. Wow..

Next we measured a bottle. A 16 oz bottle is about 8 inches tall which results in 6,313 miles of bottles. The driving distance between San Francisco and New York city is about 2,900 miles.. so we can get there and back with several miles of bottles to spare. This happens every day.

What can you do?
Get a reusable water bottle! See over 300 reusable water bottles right here. A few are shown below.


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