Earth Week: Greenwashing in the Bottled Water Industry

Buy Arrowhead because it's "Born Better.®*" Arrowhead's website
Earth Day became official in the early 1970s, and now almost 200 countries celebrate Earth Day as a way to encourage sustainability, conservation, and awareness of the problems facing the environment today. As people caught onto the trend, corporations caught onto people. Today we are swamped with advertisements portraying products as eco-friendly or green, sometimes they accurately inform the consumer, most times they do not. It just so happens that these green claims come with more frequency from the corporations whose products are the least green; attempts to counteract what we should believe about their product.

Bottled water is one of the least green products imaginable. Because it has numerous flaws, as well as not being environmentally friendly, it is almost like the industry has to overcompensate with greenness to try and cover up all the flaws (keep in mind that the terms "green" and "environmentally friendly" have no legal meaning, opening the door for deception). The bottled water industry, because of the unnecessary nature of the product, has had to use marketing and advertising to manufacture demand for bottled water.

"Be green" even appears on the outer plastic packaging.
My point here is that corporations are going to pound consumers with slogans and "statistics" which portray them as being "green", when in fact they are not at all green. Finding green references in the bottled water industry isn't hard, take a look at Nestle's Arrowhead's website above, upon opening sounds of birds chirping and water running are emitted from your computer, pictures of mountains and trees fill the background, and they even have their own little "Be Green" tab, with a nice, reassuring leaf. 

Greenwashing in the bottled water industry always seems to bring up two "green" points; the first is about how the plastic bottles are better for the environment and the second is about recycling. The industry commonly bends the reality on their bottles and recycling to supposedly paint a green picture.

"Designed To Make A Difference" appears on a vending machine.
The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) came out with a press release titled "Bottled Water is the 'Face of Positive Change' for Earth Day 2013". It's chalked full of deception, saying the industry is "concerned about the environment" and that the industry is the "face of positive change" because of "'solid science and smart decisions'". What is there to back up these claims? Let's look at the two main arguments of the industry and why you shouldn't believe them.

1. The bottles are green
The first argument is that the single-use, PET plastic bottles are environmentally friendly. This is substantiated with they're "100% recyclable" (lie #2) and they're smaller and use less plastic, which happens to make these bottles green. Because they use less plastic we are "reducing our impact on the environment" (Arrowhead website). These plastic bottles pollute before they're even made; creating these bottles requires oil and/or natural gas, two non renewable fossil fuels which can create a myriad of environmental problems in their own right. Once the bottles are made, they're only made to be used once, creating an additional environmental problem. The IBWA boasts a "38.6 percent" recycling rate, but if you really consider this number, it's horrendous. More than 60% of bottled water bottles end up as litter, landfill waste, or harmful gases from incineration. The lack of recycling contributes to the growing problem of plastic pollution, because plastics will never biodegrade, these bottles will likely get washed into the ocean, adding to the global amount of plastic trash (Great Pacific Garbage Patch, polluting even the most isolated places). The bottled water industry recently released a statistic saying that 9.67 billion gallons of bottled water was consumed in the U.S. last year, with the average person consuming 30.8 gallons of bottled water last year. This would mean the average person used 233 single-use bottles, and only 89, maybe 90, of those bottles get recycled. Using less plastic in the bottles doesn't solve any environmental problem associated with these bottles (less bad does not mean all good), oil extraction harms the environment, creating the bottles releases pollution, transporting bottled water (something already available in your home) creates more unnecessary pollution, and then the bottles pollute land and water because less than 40% are recycled with plastic that never goes away.

Less Plastic  Green
Bottled water bottles are also given extremely deceptive names to try and accentuate how "green" they are. 
Arrowhead's bottles are called "ReBorn™" and "Eco-Shape®", Evian's bottles are made with "eco-design", Aquafina's bottles are called "Eco-Fina" bottles, and Coke's Dasani bottles are made with
 "PlantBottle® Packaging". What do all these names mean? Arrowhead, Evian, and Aquafina's bottles are not green, even if they did use "less plastic", and Coke's bottle is no better.

Dasani's PlantBottle®, is no different than other plastic water bottles. Marketed as ultra-green with the logic that if it's made from plants, it has to be good for the environment, the plant bottle is a big gimmick. The plant bottle is still plastic, it will never biodegrade, it will never cycle back into the planet, never return to nature; it's just like any other plastic. The only difference is that there is a ethanol used to create the bottle, the ethanol is derived from sugar cane waste (technically a plant), but the fact is these bottles still are made from fossil fuels and will still end up as waste because they are still plastic.

2. Recycling will save the planet
The second lie is that recycling is the solution to every environmental problem surrounding these bottles. On Arrowhead's website they tell us that "we need everyone's help", because recycling is the only way to help the environment and "there isn't enough recycled plastic", but "together, we can make a difference!" (Arrowhead, Be Green!), this page also touts their recycling video, which I have written about previouslyThey go on to say how recycling is the answer to all of our problems and how you are not recycling enoughand remember "we can all help the environment" and "we all have to do our part". Recycling is the easiest way for the industry to pass the problems caused by their product onto you; the best way for them to pass the blame to the consumer. In reality plastic doesn't recycle very well, plastics have a different chemical makeup than traditionally recycled materials like glass, steel, and aluminum. Plastic polymers have a melting point around 200 degrees Fahrenheit while aluminum has a melting point of about 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that plastics don't purify when heated like other materials and when plastics are recycled they lose quality and properties. This is why "recycled" plastic bottles are commonly used as fabrics (clothing, carpets), the plastic is shredded into fibers and reused as a lower quality product, not recycled. This process should instead be called "downcycling" because the bottles seldom turn into bottles after "recycling", instead they turn into products which have to be thrown away. Plastic is not sustainable nor is it an infinitely recyclable material, eventually the plastic has to be incinerated, landfilled, or littered. The other problem here is that the industry claims to support recycling programs, when in reality they only support curbside recycling (not accessible to everyone) and not bottle bills (which are proven to substantially improve recycling rates), read more about greenwashing and recycling here.

No matter how you put it bottled water is not green.

*Born Better® is a registered trademark of Nestle Waters North America Inc., we are not affiliated with nor do we endorse Nestle's products.

Some resources or inspirations:


  1. In an effort to save the planet, one bottle at a time, Exeter has decided to stop selling bottled water on their campus find this