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U.S. Bottled Water Sales Are Booming (Again) Despite Opposition

Photo: Bottled water
Photo by Steven Depolo, Flickr Creative Commons

 

Despite organized anti-bottled-water campaigns across the country and a noisy debate about bottled water’s environmental impact, Americans are buying more bottled water than ever.

In 2011, total bottled water sales in the U.S. hit 9.1 billion gallons — 29.2 gallons of bottled water per person, according to sales figures from Beverage Marketing Corp.

The 2011 numbers are the highest total volume of bottled water ever sold in the U.S., and also the highest per-person volume.

Translated to the handy half-liter size Americans find so appealing, that comes to 222 bottles of water for each person in the country — four bottles of water for every man, woman and child, every week.

Indeed, bottled water sales aren’t just growing — it’s fair to say they’re booming. Volume increased by 4.1 percent in 2011 — five times as fast as the 0.9 percent growth in the sales of beverages overall, according to Beverage Marketing. Bottled water sales, in fact, are growing twice as fast as the economy itself.

“Americans are drinking more bottled water because they find it convenient, appealing and also healthy,” says Gary Hemphill, who is managing director for information services at Beverage Marketing, and a longtime observer of bottled water and beverage sales in the U.S. and around the world.

The resurgence of bottled water — sales dropped in 2008 for the first time in 31 years, and again in 2009, tracking declines in overall drink sales because of the recession — may be surprising given the debate about its value as a product in the last five years.

The record sales year comes as more than a dozen colleges and universities have taken the extraordinary step of banning sale of bottled water on campus, often under pressure from student organizing campaigns that encourage students to drink tap water.

Just last week, Loyola University in Chicago announced it would stop selling bottled water in cafeterias and on-campus stores this fall, and remove bottled water from vending machines starting in 2013. Loyola joins at least 15 other schools in the U.S. and Canada in banning bottled water sales, including the University of Vermont, Washington University, DePauw University, and Harvard’s School of Public Health.

At least four major municipalities — New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago’s Cook County — have banned use of government funds to purchase bottled water.

Despite the record amount of water sold — 2011 beat out the previous, pre-recession year of 2007, when volume was 8.8 billion gallons — 2011 was not a record year in dollar sales of bottled water.

At retail, Americans spent $21.7 billion on bottled water in 2011, just under 2007’s spending.

The big three bottled water companies — Coke, Pepsi and Nestlé — have been discounting water heavily in the last few years, to sustain sales through the recession and the growing opposition.

“Pricing in this category has been aggressive,” says Hemphill, “which has helped.”

Although the U.S. has among the safest tap water in the world, the U.S. remains the largest market for bottled water. The next two, in order, are China and Mexico, both countries in which tap water is either unavailable, or typically not considered safe to drink.

The increase in Americans’ consumption of bottled water is extraordinary — the growth having more in common with digital-era products than typical consumer products.

As recently as 2001, per person consumption of bottled water was just 18.2 gallons per person.

Despite the size and visibility of the business, the amount of water actually sold is relatively tiny, compared to tap water volumes. U.S. water utilities supply more than 1 billion gallons of tap water an hour, every hour of the day.

The total amount of water in the bottles Americans buy in a year would only supply U.S. tap water needs from midnight until 9 a.m. on January 1.

 

Charles Fishman is an award-winning investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling author who has spent the last four years traveling the world to understand and explain water issues. He is the author of The Big Thirstwhich is being released in paperback tomorrow with a whole new chapter.

Comments

  1. tmc
    8:18 am

    Maybe there should be places where you can get great tasting purified water at a dispenser instead of the sealed retail continer… this could catch on… people would pay for it if the water actually tasted good and was conveniently accessible, such as places like fast food restaurants!! Customers could pay up to 25 cents for a gallon of water instead of $1+ at a supermarket… However you bring your own container!!
    Many people don’t trust their own tap water.. because filtration is not good enough to purify water properly.. Industrial filtration is the key to selling it in volume at distribution places.. like fast food places. Its been tried before.. but they never maintain the clenliness and upkeep to make it a long term project. That’s why it’s failed before.. I remember supermarkets doing this idea for the 5 gallon refilable containers– I think it was a stop-n-shop store..

  2. […] bottled water. Thus far, New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago’s Cook County have banned the use of government funds to buy bottled water, and some universities have started to ban the sale of bottled […]

  3. […] 9.1 billion gallons or 29.1 gallons per person per year to be exact. That is based on 2011 statistics. […]

  4. […] 9.1 billion gallons or 29.1 gallons per person per year to be exact. That is based on 2011 statistics. […]

  5. [...] Read more about this topic at this link. [...]

  6. My water is tap water. | May Strutt
    April 12, 2013, 1:28 pm

    [...] According to National Geographic’s News Watch: “In 2011, total bottled water sales in the U.S. hit 9.1 billion gallons — 29.2 gallons of bottled water per person, according to sales figures from Beverage Marketing Corp. The 2011 numbers are the highest total volume of bottled water ever sold in the U.S., and also the highest per-person volume. Translated to the handy half-liter size Americans find so appealing, that comes to 222 bottles of water for each person in the country — four bottles of water for every man, woman and child, every week. Indeed, bottled water sales aren’t just growing — it’s fair to say they’re booming. … Bottled water sales, in fact, are growing twice as fast as the economy itself.” http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/05/17/u-s-bottled-water-sales-are-booming-again-despite… [...]

  7. [...] In 2011, total bottled water sales in the U.S. hit 9.1 billion gallons — 29.2 gallons of bottled water per person, the highest total volume of bottled water ever sold in the U.S., and the highest per-person volume. That comes to 222 half-liter bottles of water for each person in the country — four bottles of water for every man, woman and child, every week. (Source: Beverage Marketing Corp) [...]

  8. [...] to a National Geographic report, Americans drank 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water, or 222 bottles per person, in 2011. [...]

  9. [...] year, Americans consumed 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water. They also spent $13.8 billion on jeans. Levi Strauss decided to capitalize on both figures for a [...]

  10. [...] you would like to find out more about the many different types of filtered bottleless water coolers available to see which filtered bottleless water coolers interest you the most you can search [...]

  11. cece
    italy france
    February 17, 2013, 10:29 am

    This is outrageous!!!!!! >~<

  12. Oh how I Pre-Loved Levi’s… | Pre-Loved
    February 13, 2013, 4:57 am

    [...] year, Americans consumed 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water. They also spent $13.8 billion on jeans. Levi Strauss decided to capitalize on both figures for a [...]

  13. [...] to sell $5 reusable bottles and to install fillers in offices and other places of business. This article points out that Americans are consuming more bottled water than ever. And this website notes that [...]

  14. [...] bottled water sales are up, and it should be celebrated that the sugar-addicted masses are turning away from the poisons [...]

  15. Valerie
    Waitsfield
    January 5, 2013, 1:03 pm

    I stand a bit corrected: I didn’t catch that the article was written before Sandy hit; but all the rest stands.

  16. Valerie
    VT
    January 5, 2013, 1:00 pm

    This article does a huge disservice by ignoring the impacts of Tropical Storm Irene, Sandy, the midwest droughts, and other environmental disasters that left countless people with no alternatives but to drink bottled water. They had no choice but buy it or it was provided by charitable or other organizations. While the fact that bottled water was available could be considered a good thing; I would argue other vessels could have been provided rather than the throwaway plastics. But that’s something for emergency preparedness planners to think about for the next disasters. My community was hard-hit by Irene in 2011 and I saw first hand the need for alternative water supplies.

  17. [...] Bottled water – $21.7 billion [...]

  18. [...] Bottled water – $21.7 billion [...]

  19. leonard hevian
    google
    November 14, 2012, 5:47 pm

    And there are people think that the real robots are not yet around?? WoW! Americans – or their mayority,sorry- act as programed robots. There came a celebration day like holloween,n the human class robots went to spend their hard gained dollars.Astonish? If “you” don’t go out 31 times at years to dance the Gov.drums;oh lord,u r not an american! I know water bottles addicts be evicte from their propierties. The don’t realize how much $$ they spent in that cigarret like adiction.
    Poors Fools: T smart men get profits from d fools men n women n the two last one only get profits of their labor s jobs.
    The C.E.O of those companies are living in millions dollars mega yats in Monaco were they are play and bet that money in the Rullette.hahahaha.

  20. [...] drives markets in a big way. That’s why, despite the backlash, bottled water sales are on the rise again. As bad as the waste problem is getting, no one can deny how convenient bottled water is. You grab [...]

  21. [...] year, Americans consumed 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water. They also spent $13.8 billion on jeans. Levi Strauss decided to capitalize on both figures for a [...]

  22. [...] about today? Twenty years later, statistics put US water bottle sales at about 9.1 BILLBION [...]

  23. Claudio Saporta
    Chile
    September 7, 2012, 4:12 am

    2 things:
    1. Don’t other soft drinks with artificial sweetener, flavor, color etc come in PLASTIC as well??
    2. Unbelievable the schools are leaving only the alternative of consumption of soft drink to their students. I believe that is the worst social responsibility ever.

  24. [...] industry has enjoyed quite a boom during the last couple of decades. From just 2001 to 2011, the sales of bottled water increased from the equivalent of 18.2 gallons per person to 29.2 gallons per [...]

  25. [...] people cut out bottled when economic times are tough and so concern with public water increases (this actually isn’t happening, by the way–bottled water sales are increasing), people understand that climate change will require [...]

  26. [...] to National Geographic, bottled water consumption is at an all-time high thanks to a recovering economy and a higher [...]

  27. [...] figures from the the Beverage Marketing Corp. (h/t National Geographic) show that bottled water sales were up 4.1% last year, versus just a 0.9% increase in bottled drink [...]

  28. Amratha Kini
    India
    May 27, 2012, 7:16 am

    The same problem is in India too… The sight of a huge pile of plastic bottles and bags blocking the drain for rain water run off is annoying. Also people have to understand the effect of BPA from the plastic bottles on their health. Recently some new companies are selling soda in plastic bottles, which previously was sold in reusable glass bottles. These changes are actually not needed. People be responsible!!!

  29. Bobbi T.
    Ithaca, NY
    May 24, 2012, 10:04 am

    I work on a college campus & am a huge recycler myself. Everyday, I pack my metal re-usable bottle of filtered tap-water across campus; sometimes 2 of ‘em. Same thing on the weekends, when I’m out & about. Sometimes I have little kids w/ me, & they need water, too. So, guess what: Sometimes I run out! Helloooohhh!!! Who can honestly pack THAT much water w/ them, everyday, & everywhere they go?? I try, folks, but the fact is, sometimes it’s necessary to PURCHASE a beverage! How wrong is it to be forced to buy a softdrink when I just want some more water??

  30. Paul Morgan
    Ontario
    May 24, 2012, 9:13 am

    The amount of bottled water compared to tap water is not important, it is amount of bottled water used compared to tap water drunk. The rest of treated tapwater for washing, sprinklers, pools, industry, etc. etc. is not part of the comparison.
    No one has mentioned the dangers of bottled water; plastic breaks down, chemicals leach out, freezing/ thawing, heat, all speed up these chemical processes, and yet people says it bottle water is better for you.
    ???

  31. [...] Geographic published an article this week on bottled water sales in the [...]

  32. Changes In Longitude
    World
    May 22, 2012, 9:56 am

    This plastic is washing up on beaches everywhere, even creating trashy beaches in Bali. To see its effects go to: http://www.changesinlongitude.com/plastic-trash-beaches/

  33. John Doyle
    Sydney
    May 22, 2012, 12:24 am

    Bottled water is a good option only in so far as it substitutes for sugared drinks and fruit juices. Fructose is leading the charge to the obesity epidemic [check out Dr Robert H Lustig's blogs] It is not, as JK says above a self control issue.
    The waste of bottles could be eased if there was a charge, say 5 or 10c refund. People would find it worthwhile to collect throwaways for recycling.

  34. Fisch
    Bay Area
    May 21, 2012, 7:55 pm

    The issue of bottled water is not simply the waste of plastic or the use of BPA’s in the bottles but also the movement of freshwater between watersheds. Companies over exploit public water sources, dry up watersheds and cause larger ecological repercussions. Classic example is the movement of freshwater to southern California to cities like LA that wouldn’t exist if they lived within their local caring capacity , at the expense of Northern California waterways. Water in the United States and parts of the world for the most part are handled very poorly. Anyone interested should watch the documentary “Blue Gold”

  35. JDB ESQ
    PreObamaAmerica, USA
    May 20, 2012, 12:08 am

    I fill my army canteen with self-filtered water — yummy! Someone is also drinking the 222 bottles of water that I am not drinking.

  36. sharkey
    May 19, 2012, 11:47 am

    zbeast. Why would you want to use something like a plastic bottle just one time that basically will last forever?? We have to get beyond the throw away mentality. The plastic water bottles are not recyclable even though they may have those little arrows on them. For the most part they become a permanent waste/pollution problem that will eventually enter the food chain. How much water do you really “waste” washing out a stainless or glass bottle? You can also save a lot of money by refilling 5 gallon jugs and using a dispenser or even a filter if you don’t trust the tap

  37. [...] Original source Bookmark on DeliciousDigg this postRecommend on Facebookshare via RedditShare with StumblersTweet about it Categories : Water News Tags : bottled water // Bookmark on DeliciousDigg this postRecommend on Facebookshare via RedditShare with StumblersTweet about it Latest News [...]

  38. [...] More info at National Geographic [...]

  39. Paul Schwartz
    Chicago
    May 18, 2012, 3:55 pm

    So, perhaps folks should be less concerned with banning things like bottled water which is still a healthy alternative to many of the drinks left that remain unbanned and be more focused on insuring that the companies that sell bottled water are doing their part to reduce their carbon footprint. Some companies like Coke have gone to plant based bottles for example while others have gone 25%-50% recycled plastic in their bottles. Others like Evian and Voss do the above plus spend a portion of the money they make from the sales of their product to replenish what they take from the envoronment by investing in projects like wetlands development. It is disappointing that our government officials and future leaders in the student population would rather take the easy way out and just eliminate something versus finding a better solution to their concerns. Banning something only means that those individuals will go get it someplace else as hydration is critical to life. Don’t ban bottled water, get educated on who you partner with and support those that protect the environment in a meaningful way.

  40. JK
    May 18, 2012, 3:05 pm

    @Nick. It is not stupid. Paying money for water that is of equal quality as tap water is stupid. You can continue paying money for bottled water if you’d like. As for the soda and obesity comment, it’s called self-control. If you know that excessive soda consumption can cause obesity then stop drinking it. Bottled water is an economic waste for consumers. We environmentalists aren’t just saving the planet, we’re saving your wallets as well.

  41. Nick
    State College
    May 18, 2012, 9:04 am

    banning water from vending machines is just plain STUPID…I realize there is always a choice to bring your own water, but now patrons without will be faced with soda or hmmm, soda, at the machine…only contributing to Americas obesity issues. sometimes environmentalists need to think outside their narrowed ‘save the world’ box and think about the effects of their actions

  42. holt
    May 18, 2012, 6:43 am

    I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

  43. Ann McElhatton
    DC
    May 18, 2012, 6:31 am

    I wonder if the federal government could consider banning gov. funds for bottled water. Also, has there been a review into if this increase has any correlation with the trending ‘fruit’ flavored water? Or is it strictly H2O?

  44. LIz Mason
    May 17, 2012, 11:32 pm

    Thats crazy man I just dont get it, at all!

    http://www.Private-VPN.tk

  45. zbeast
    Fremont cal
    May 17, 2012, 5:53 pm

    I like bottled water. I have a water filer installed for most of my major water use… but when it comes to water on the go..
    I i pull out of my fridge, a nice clean cold bottle of water.
    that I know there is no mold or other things growing in.
    So far as waste, I would waste time, soap and a lot of water cleaning out reusable water containers.