Protecting Oregon's Environment
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Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

Land Quality 

Solid Waste


Prevention and Reuse
Recovery and Compost
Disposal
Oregon Recycling Laws:
A History
Conferences, Training & Workshops
Resources

Waste Prevention and Reuse

Drinking Water
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 environmental impact.

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 change.
  • 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.

Reports

Frequently Asked Questions

Additional Resources

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For more information about DEQ's Land Quality programs, visit the DEQ contact page.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
Headquarters: 811 SW Sixth Ave., Portland, OR 97204-1390
Phone: 503-229-5696 or toll free in Oregon 1-800-452-4011
Oregon Telecommunications Relay Service: 1-800-735-2900  FAX: 503-229-6124

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is a regulatory agency authorized to protect Oregon's environment by
the State of Oregon and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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