Waste Prevention and Reuse
A Comparison of Bottled and Tap Water Using Life Cycle Analysis
State law establishes a hierarchy of preferred methods for managing
wastes. Recycling is preferable to disposal, but waste prevention (the
“reduce, reuse” part of “reduce, reuse, recycle”) is even more
preferred. While Oregon has made excellent strides at increasing
recycling, progress at prevention has been more elusive.
Drinking water provides an opportunity to examine the “reduce, reuse,
recycle” hierarchy in more detail. Drinking from the tap reduces waste
in the first place. 5-gallon containers from water delivery services are
typically reused. Single-use bottles can be recycled or disposed of.
DEQ has completed a study that compares a wide range of environmental
impacts (including greenhouse gas emissions) of drinking water from the
tap, 5-gallon reusables, and single-use bottles. It compares the
environmental impacts of tap water (“reduce”) against the impacts of
bottled water (“recycle” and “dispose”). The study confirms that while
recycling bottles is environmentally preferable to disposing of them,
buying bottled water and recycling the bottles is not the best
environmental choice. Drinking water from the tap (waste prevention)
typically has substantially lower impacts in most categories of
Other highlights of the study include the following:
- For water that is bottled and consumed within Oregon, the large
majority of environmental impacts are typically from producing the
plastic resin used to make the bottle.
- If the bottle comes from across the country or the world, most
impacts increase by a factor of 3 or more.
- End-of-life (disposal) related impacts are very small, with the
possible exception of biodegradable plastic bottles. If they
decompose in a landfill, the resulting methane is a potent
greenhouse gas. Even when landfills capture some of the gas to
produce energy, the remaining gas escapes and contributes to climate
- If you choose to drink bottled water, recycling the bottle can
have moderate environmental benefits. These benefits, however, are
still overshadowed by the negative impacts of making and
transporting the bottle in the first place.
- For tap water, the frequency of washing your container in a
dishwasher influences the results more than any other factor.
Frequently Asked Questions