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Pablo Calculates the True Cost of Bottled Water: the manufacture and transport of that one kilogram bottle of Fiji water consumed 26.88 kilograms of water (7.1 gallons)and .849 Kilograms of fossil fuel

Interesting analysis---thanks Norbert!

Pablo Calculates the True Cost of Bottled Water
Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 02. 6.07
Science & Technology

Pablo2.jpgWe have tried to calculate the true cost of producing and transporting bottled water before, and have come up with just vague approximations, which did not take the production of the bottle into account. Over at Triple Pundit, Sustainability Engineer and MBA Pablo Päster has done a thorough and exhaustive study of the cost of bring a litre of Fiji Water to America. He starts with the production of the bottle in China, taking the bottle blanks to Fiji, and confirming that it takes more water to make the bottle than it actually holds. He then transports the bottle to the States by ship. Not even including the distribution in the States, the numbers are absolutely staggering.

In summary, the manufacture and transport of that one kilogram bottle of Fiji water consumed 26.88 kilograms of water (7.1 gallons) .849 Kilograms of fossil fuel (one litre or .26 gal) and emitted 562 grams of Greenhouse Gases (1.2 pounds).

Twenty-six times as much water used to make it than you actually drink. As much fuel to make it as there is water in the bottle. Staggering is an understatement. ::Triple Pundit

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[3] Comments | Related Tags: bottled water | carbon footprint | fiji water | pablo
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Comments (3)

Interesting, but it seems like comparing the water used ratio is skewed. How much of the water used is recycled and used again? Cooling water, ideally, for power plants is near the same temperature it was taken and otherwise unchanged. How can you count that?

Now for a real comparison, how much water and energy is used when getting water from the tap? Everything from drilling the wells, treating the water and delivering it. There will be a large difference I'd assume between city water and personal wells. Maybe include a RO unit so the end result is almost pure water.

February 6, 2007 12:11 PM | click here to report abuseflag a problem
jump to topJiltedCitizen [TypeKey Profile Page]says:

AskPablo: Exotic Bottled Water

fiji water.jpg
This week's AskPablo comes from Maryline: "I am interested to know the 'true-cost' of a bottle of Fiji water that currently sells for $1.50 in the United States. David Lazarus wrote a report on the water business in the SF Chronicle and studied the success of Fiji (January 21 edition), where 'distance and exoticism are marketed as advantages.' Fiji is now # 2 in premium bottled water, behind Evian where we have the same transportation issue. An environmental absurdity!"

I agree! I once heard Julia "Butterfly" Hill (everyone's favorite tree-sitting sweetheart) say that it takes more water to make the plastic bottle than it actually holds. We might as well put that myth to the test while we're at it. Where do we begin? Well, I doubt that Fiji has a booming plastics industry so they probably get the bottles from China. I would suspect that they get the bottles in the form of "Blanks" which are then expanded to their final size and shaped by a process called "stretch blow molding." The total mass of the empty 1 liter bottle is probably around 0.125kg (125g) and it is probably made from PETE or HDPE (Sorry, I'm not running out to the store to check). Plastics of this type typically use around 6kg of oil per kg, 200kg of water per kg, and result in around 3kg of greenhouse gas emissions per kg. So, with a quick check (200kg/kg x 0.125kg = 25kg of water) we find that Butterfly is indeed correct. Based on my assumptions a bottle that holds 1 liter requires 25 liters of water in its manufacturing process (this includes power plant cooling water).

Let's take a look at the transportation aspect to see what the total ecological impact of an exotic bottle of water might be. A container vessel uses 9g of fuel per tkm (that's metric tons carried x distance traveled), 80g of water per tkm, and releases 17g of GHGs per tkm. The distance from China to Fiji is 8,000km, which gives us exactly 1tkm ( (0.125kg / 1t/1000kg) x 8,000km = 1.0tkm). So, 9g of fossil fuels, 80g of water, and 17g of GHGs per bottle delivered to Fiji from China.

Now let's look at the trip to the US. The distance from Fiji to San Francisco is 8,700km. But this time the bottles will be full, so they will have a mass of 1.125kg each. This gives us a much larger value of 9.8tkm ( (1.125kg / 1t/1000kg) x 8,700km = 9.8tkm) which I will round up to 10tkm. So, 90g of fossil fuels, 800g of water, and 170g of GHGs per bottle delivered to the US from Fiji.

Since the fossil fuels end up being accounted for in the GHG emissions I'll ignore those values for now. The total amount of water used to produce and deliver one bottle of exotic water is 26.88kg (25kg + 80g + 1kg + 800g)! And the amount of GHGs released amount to 562g (375g + 17g + 170g), or 0.562kg, or 0.000562 tons. If you wanted to offset your annual exotic water habit (are you eco-chic Hollywood types listening?) with DriveNeutral it would cost you $1.54 (0.000562 tons/day x 365 days/year x $7.50/ton), just 4 cents more than the cost of one bottle of water.

But how much does it cost to deliver the water from halfway around the world? Let's assume that the cost of transportation is based on our fossil fuel use assumptions above and that the bottle producer and the shipping company charge double their material cost. I am not sure if these are valid assumptions, but they are just assumptions after all... So, 0.75kg of fossil fuels to make the bottle, 9g to deliver it to Fiji, and 90g to deliver the full bottle to the US. From economics we learn that fixed costs (equipment, etc.) in high-volume production are negligible in the long run so it is pretty safe to assume that the cost of making and delivering the bottled water is linked to its variable cost. In this case the variable cost is the fossil fuel (since the water comes out of the ground for free), which amounts to 0.849 kg. A standard oil barrel holds 159 liters and one liter of oil weighs 850g/liter, so one barrel holds 135.15kg of oil. One barrel costs between $40 and $70 (let's say $55, depending on OPEC's mood and other factors), so 0.849kg would cost $0.35 (1 barrel/135.15kg x $55/barrel x 0.849kg). And applying our earlier mark-up assumption, the cost to produce and deliver a bottle of exotic water is $0.70, leaving $0.80 per bottle profit for the manufacturer and the retail store.

I hope that answers your question Maryline!

Pablo Päster, MBA
Sustainability Engineer