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Are reusable water bottles sustainable?

Sind wiederverwendbare Trinkflaschen nachhaltig?

Reusable bottles made of aluminum, glass, or plastic are becoming increasingly popular and are disrupting the traditional beverage industry. In comparison to PET bottles from supermarkets, using a reusable bottle allows you to benefit from local water sources, saving on transportation emissions and money. But how much more sustainable is it? And when does it make sense to switch to a reusable bottle?

In the traditional model of the beverage industry, beverage containers are filled centrally and transported over long distances. Often, they travel several hundred kilometers before finally reaching the supermarket.1 Next to reusable containers like glass bottles, beverages are usually filled and transported in single-use containers such as aluminum cans or PET bottles. In this article, we will take a closer look at the latter.

PET bottles, made from the plastic Polyethylene Terephthalate, are energy- and emission-intensive in production. Two kilograms of crude oil are needed to produce one kilogram of PET. Despite this, over 500 billion PET bottles are sold globally each year. Of these, barely 30% are actually recycled, meaning the majority of PET bottles worldwide are single-use products.2, 3, 4

In Europe, the situation is somewhat different; recycling rates here range up to over 90% depending on the country. However, recycled plastic is used for new plastic bottles just over a third of the time. The majority, around 50%, is recycled into fibers for clothing or industrial films, eventually exiting the plastic recycling loop. 5

In comparison, reusable bottles can be refilled at local water sources, thereby avoiding transportation emissions and waste. People who make use of reusable bottles are also no longer dependent on supermarkets, which saves money and provides more freedom.

However, even a reusable water bottle is not produced without emissions. This is mainly dependent on the amount and type of raw material processed (most commonly aluminum, stainless steel, and plastic) and the production method. The number of PET bottles you need to replace before your reusable bottle truly saves emissions depends on various factors – for example, how far your PET bottles were transported before reaching the supermarket. As a rule of thumb, for metallic bottles, the break-even point is approximately fifty replaced PET bottles when considering greenhouse gas emissions.

For more precise conclusions, a product-specific life cycle analysis is necessary. This involves documenting all processes from raw material extraction to bottle disposal and calculating their emissions.

We will conduct such a life cycle analysis for the bottleplus system in the future. This will allow us to communicate transparently and quantitatively about the sustainability of our product. Such that all our customers know after which point they are not only benefiting themselves but also doing something good for the environment.

 

Sources:

1. carbortech, Ökobilanz Getränkeverpackungen, Juli 2014
2. Bundesamt für Umwelt BAFU, PET-Getränkeflaschen, März 2023
3. UN environment programme, Our planet is choking on plastic
4. World Economic Forum, Top 25 recycling facts and statistics for 2022, Juni 2022
5. Fachverband Kunststoffrecycling, PET-Recycling, November 2020

Picture material:

Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash
Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash
Photo by Kirill on Unsplash
Photo by Mike Swigunski on Unsplash

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