AskPablo: What’s so bad about bottled water, anyway?

I keep hearing that bottled water is the scourge of the Earth. But it sure is convenient. So what’s so bad about it? And do you have any good alternative recommendations?
Without a doubt, the vilification of bottled water has gained momentum over the past year. It’s a frequently discussed topic in the news and at city council meetings. The city of San Francisco has put a moratorium on the use of city funds to purchase bottled water when tap water is available, and the TV show “Boston Legal” recently featured a courtroom monologue on the environmental drawbacks of bottled water. We all know exotic bottled waters are built on clever marketing, but let me dive into the numbers.

First, the manufacturing of plastic bottles, which are often made from nonrecycled virgin material, requires vast quantities of petroleum, and only 12 percent of this material is recovered for recycling. The total mass of an empty 1-liter bottle is around 25 grams (this varies from brand to brand) and it is made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate). One kilogram (1 kg = 2.2046 lbs.) of this type of plastic requires around 6.5 kilograms of oil, uses 294 kilograms of water (this includes power plant cooling water), and results in 3.7 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions. Based on my calculations, an empty 1-liter bottle requires over 7 liters of water in its manufacturing process, uses 162 grams of oil, and results in over 100 grams of greenhouse gas emissions. (That’s about 10 balloons full of carbon dioxide, or how much an average car emits over half a kilometer or one-third of a mile.)
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