So you want to save the planet, but you still buy bottled water. Sounds like an eco dilemma. Whether by habit or just in a hydration pinch, people all over the world are looking for more sustainable bottled water options. In fact, when it comes to all products many people are increasingly taking an interest in how they’re made, and what happens after the product's life is over. The thing is, there is no one standard or law to make a company disclose every aspect of their product to consumers. Which makes it difficult to sort through the many greenwashed marketing campaigns to find the products or in this case, bottled water that are genuinely trying to improve some part of the environment. That’s where Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) can help us out.
Why are Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) important for examining bottled water?
Life cycle assessments or LCAs are handy in that they can help us understand the whole cycle of a product, like bottled water. Some LCAs are more in-depth than others. In general, they can vary from a Cradle to Grave analysis like single-use plastic bottled water, where a product is manufactured and followed to the end of life (read landfill), to the ideal scenario called Cradle to Cradle or Closed Loop Production analysis, like PATHWATER. In a Cradle to Cradle scenario, you have a product that is full circle, and the company has taken responsibility for ensuring that the end of life for that product becomes a new similar product over and over again, an ideal model. What gives PATHWATER this ability is aluminum which can be melted down, recycled, and turned into the same exact product endlessly and without any loss of quality.
“Everything is a resource for something else. In nature, the “waste” of one system becomes food for another. Everything can be designed to be disassembled and safely returned to the soil as biological nutrients, or re-utilized as high quality materials for new products as technical nutrients without contamination.” - William McDonough, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
You can tell a lot by a company’s willingness to disclose a real Life Cycle Assessment for their product. Usually, LCAs are done internally but to disclose them to the public is a matter of how transparent a company is willing to be. As we move forward into a world that requires businesses to stand up and make environmentally-friendly products, we will also need businesses to stand up and share greenwash-free life cycle assessments so we can judge them accordingly. We will want to see the good, the bad, and the ugly if we want to accomplish anything in regards to our plastic crisis, climate change, or any other environmental concern we hope to tackle. If industries are not being transparent in their sustainability actions, flaws and all, then how can we make good decisions based on reliable information? The only way this can happen is if we are all on board, sharing vital information that affects health, water quality, air quality, and the level of waste going to our landfills.
For example, how can we judge this popular water bottle company's LCA, so bravely linked in their letter to congress (seen here)? The link this company’s letter sends you to looks pretty legit www.beveragelcafootprint.com, until you click on it and discover it’s linked to a gaming website? It’s all fun and GAMES until you have a plastic crisis on your hands.
So what is considered in a real life cycle assessment (LCA)?
For starters, the creation of the product is the first focal point. That means all of the raw materials that go into making a product, i.e., wood, metal, oil, coal. The second thing that is considered is the manufacturing of the product; this can be done in many ways; it can be done internationally or domestically. It’s important to consider the energy and the process of manufacturing. From there you will want to consider transportation distances from the manufacturing plant and over the entire life of the product, as it moves from consumers hands and is reused or thrown away. Is it recycled? At what rate is it recycled? Is it a reusable item that gets many lives? How many uses does the item typically get? An LCA helps to narrow down these questions and when we can see the full life of a product, we can decide which products are genuinely improving on a process for positive environmental benefits. We are also able to determine which ones are helping to solve an immediate need and can be improved upon in the future, also which process are altogether antiquated and must be eliminated. The main LCA areas address carbon emissions, water use, natural resource use, and energy use.
An LCA is completed using three steps:
1) inventory analysis - identify all inputs and outputs, where materials come from, where they end up, and the energy inputs and outputs related to the creation of the product
2) impact analysis - a value known as an ‘impact score’ indicates the impact of each step in the manufacturing process
3) improvement analysis - finding places in the process that can be improved to reduce the impact score, like using less energy
Most people won’t see a company’s life cycle assessment unless they’re an open, honest company or an individual makes a direct request. LCA’s are not a topic widely discussed by average consumers. However, it should be. This is an important factor to consider if we are to move closer to a circular economy. All of the business decision-makers, lawmakers, and citizens that are purchasing products for business and family should have a handle and baseline understanding of what their dollars and decisions are contributing to.
PATHWATER’s Life Cycle Assessment - The ONLY bottled water with the power to save the planet
This brings us to the juncture of single-use plastic bottled water and how PATHWATER was created to intentionally have an overall better life cycle than a single-use plastic bottle. Why? Primarily because of PATHWATER’s high reusability factor, which can be calculated to reduce an environmental footprint in a number of ways. Secondly, for the high recyclability of aluminum which dramatically lowers the overall energy necessary to keep a bottle in production.
A breakdown of PATHWATER raw materials usage and carbon footprint
Aluminium bottle - 80 g
Water - 600 g
#5 BPA free polypropylene Cap - 4.8 g
Ink - .02 g
#5 BPA free polypropylene - .2g
Shipping Raw Materials
Cardboard - 10 g per case, Tape - .5 g per case, 12 bottles per case
Carbon emitted from the manufacturing of one bottle
Distribution low due to local fill/sales
The bottle is built sturdy to withstand unlimited refills. Washing is done by hand with a soft bristle brush and rinsed with warm soapy water. As long the cap is not misplaced, and the bottle is not put in the freezer for any reason, it has the potential to last for years of reuse.
An aluminum container made from recycled aluminum uses 20x less energy than a container made from virgin materials. Aluminum is the most recycled and recyclable material in the world.
While we hope that the mission of PATHWATER is apparent to the person purchasing the bottle, it is in natural human error that some people may throw away their bottle. Based on human nature, the amount of estimated litter is 1% based on a simulated consumer behavior calculation of 10,000 bottles.
The 10,000 bottle scenario comparison
- We simulated bottled water drinking behavior with 10,000 units
- We used the PATHWATER study, end of life data from the United States for aluminum, and plastic beverage containers
- Each percentage equates to what action is taken after each individual use
- After 3 uses, a PATHWATER bottle ‘breaks even’ and starts significantly reducing carbon
PATHWATER product LCA breakdown
The bottle production dominates the footprint, typical for product category. However, with the high rate of reusability built into the PATHWATER bottle, the thickness, sturdiness, and overall long life of a bottle, the footprint is re-cooped at just 3 bottle reuses. The great news is that we surveyed our customers and found that the average use exceeds 10+ reuses, making PATHWATER a product that drastically reduces carbon emissions for every person who switches from single-use bottled water.
The ONLY bottled water with a better carbon positive footprint
What is a carbon positive product?
Carbon positive means that a product doesn’t just meet baseline carbon emissions to become carbon neutral, a carbon positive product across its entire life means that the product has a positive impact on carbon emissions when compared to the current industry standard - plastic AND single-use bottled water. The average single-use plastic bottle emits 159 gCO2e - which stands for 159 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent. But the production of the bottle is only good for ONE use, then the bottle gets thrown away. While a reusable PATHWATER bottle costs us 396.99 gCO2e in the life cycle process then becomes carbon neutral at 3 uses, and carbon positive after 4+ uses - this is compared to single-use plastic bottled water.
What makes up the 396.99 gCO2e footprint for one PATHWATER bottle?
Materials - 375.23 g
Processing - 0g
Manufacturing - 8.68 g
Transportation - 14.19 g
Storage - 0g
Retail - 0g
Consumer - 0g
Disposal - 1.79 g
To get some perspective on these numbers, here are some other every day carbon emitting activities:
Sending an email emits 0.14 oz CO2e
A web search leaves 0.2g - 4.5g CO2e
Receiving a text - 0.014g CO2e
Watching 2 hours of tv on a 32-inch LCD screen - 176g CO2e
It’s important to remember that sustainability is a spectrum, both on a personal and business level. Life Cycle Assessments are a great way to get honest about the products we purchase if they are shared with transparent information that is not greenwashed. The unfortunate part is that the majority of companies that are not willing to release their Life Cycle Assessments are the biggest culprit of bad behavior. Often, outside researchers will conduct LCAs on these companies. PATHWATER stands in the best position for bottled water on the sustainability spectrum. The Carbon Positive positioning of PATHWATER is the result of being reusable. “We’re thrilled to offer the most sustainable bottled water on the market which inspires people to adopt reusability as a sustainable lifestyle. Our Life Cycle Assessment addresses just how impactful it is to make a bottled water reusable, something no other company has done. We are driving the mission of the people to get rid of plastic by offering a product that aligns with the needs of our planet,” says Ali Orabi Co-founder of PATHWATER.