Sample Essay on Explore the Life Cycle of Plastic Water Bottles

Life Cycle of Plastic Water Bottles


The United State of America accounts among the biggest market that consumes largest quantities of bottled water. The US alone consumes on average a total of fifty billion disposable bottled water containers per annum. The large quantities of bottled water consumed add up to the increasing quantity of crude oil used in the manufacturing of bottles that are used for the water storage. Huge mountains of bottled water after use pile to be sorted for recycling while some are disposed or littered in landfills or water ways. Despite the fact that bottled water containers are recycled, there is an increase in the number of containers that accumulates each year in huge volumes in landfills. These containers litter along the beaches, carpet landfills and foul seas causing some cities and learning institutions to take measures like destroying them by. The large numbers of plastic bottles that are used to store drinking water are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic. PET is produced mainly from crude oil as a major raw material. In total, U.S especially the northern part accounts for the largest number of PET plastic used per year. On a yearly basis, US accounts for about 5.35 billion pounds of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic of which less than one-third, that is 23 % of this amount is recycled while the rest amount of about 3.8 billion water bottles accumulates as litter in landfills. The problem of littering of bottled water containers has been common. However, due to increased and persistent sustainability in the US especially in California in Northern America the threat has been under control as a result of measures that have been implemented to lower the carbon level in the environment (Simon, Amor, & Földényi, 2015).

Keywords: Environment, Pollution, California Redemption Value.


Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the major raw material used in the production of bottles used in the storage of bottled water, and it is produced from crude oil. After the extraction of oil by the manufacturing companies, it is transported to the refineries where the production of plastic containers would take place in processing plants. According to the studies based on market statistics in trade magazines, the California beverage market comprises of 60 % bottled distilled water, 24 % of juices, sports drinks, and sixteen percent carbonated soft drinks. Most of these estimates support that bottled water storage containers are made of plastic bottles that are manufactured from PET plastics. The global estimate indicates that about thirty percent of PET plastic is used in the manufacturing of plastic bottles annually. During the extraction of PET from crude oil, the process releases greenhouse gasses that have high chances of causing pollution to the environment. Plastics formed also cast toxins substances in the environment hence contributing to the pollution (Papong et al. 2014).

Plastic water bottles can also be produced in the factories using bioplastic. Bioplastic used is in most cases are produced using plant materials as the major raw materials, for instance, corn, sugarcane as a substitute for the petroleum product. The advantage of the plastics that are made from plant materials is that they are biodegradable and hence environment-friendly. After consumption of water, the empty containers can be tossed in the compost and decompose at a high rate with ease. Additionally, bioplastics are eco-friendly since they are not extracted or handled like crude oil and companies that manufacture the products tries to apply the best environmental practices possible. Bioplastics decompose at a very high rate shortening the life cycle of plastic bottles and hence have high chances of causing bottles leak if kept in shelves for a long period (Papong et al. 2014).

The products made from biodegradable products do not necessarily mean that they are fully environmentally friendly. These bioplastics require plenty of water and other resources, for instance, agricultural land that could otherwise be used to produce consumable goods like food.  Bioplastics raw materials require a lot of water, fuel, and other resources during the manufacturing process. The products cannot be processed alone and hence requires the combination of other varieties of chemicals. Like any other plastics, the bioplastics used in bottled water requires shipping to where they would be put to final use and hence requiring fuel that is the pollutant to the air during combustion (Simon et al., 2015).

Petroleum Cracking

Crude oil is the main source of most chemicals that are used in the manufacturing of plastics though some like polyethylene terephthalate, natural gas, and methane can be used as a substitute to be the source of component monomers. Distillate Petroleum like ethylene and xylene glycol is often used in PET production. Petroleum cracking is meant to separate different components parts of hydrocarbon chains from crude oil. The process is based on the idea that different compounds evaporate at different levels of temperatures and hence separating them from the main component of crude oil. Shorter polymer chains during distillation process volatilize and rise to where they condense, and they are then followed by longer chains while the heaviest and longest chains do not volatilize and remain either in solid or liquid form. In the United States, PET manufacturers are located in North and South of Carolina. The large numbers of PET bottles that are sold in California are included in the state’s beverage container recycling program, for instance, California Redemption Value (CRV) program (Bach et al., 2013).

The environmental impact of this process is that the crude oil used in the manufacturing of bottled water results in the emission of chemicals that add to the level of carbon in the atmosphere. The National Geographic results indicated that the increased consumption of bottled water in the US has resulted in the increase in the production of plastic water bottles to meet the demand level. The number of oil barrels used in a year for the production of plastic water bottles ranges between 15 and 17 million barrels of oil per annum. The number is equivalent to the level of fuel that can be consumed by more than one hundred thousand motor vehicles for the same period indicating the level of carbon that is emitted into the environment per year. The increased carbon level causes air pollution, increased greenhouse effects and acidification potential. The greenhouse gasses emitted increases the chances of trapping heat in the atmosphere causing the global warming while acidification can result in the formation of acid rains ruining the lives of living organisms (Papong et al. 2014).

Formation of the Physical Character of the Plastic Water Bottles

Polyethylene terephthalate is a plain plastic that is not fully rigid and has a structure that begins with an amorphous structure. Through heating, PET crystals align giving the bottle its physical appearances and characteristics. The formation of Pet bottles starts as plastic pellet or flakes of polyethylene terephthalate that are newly formed, from recycling processes or even a combination of both. When the final product is needed to have the colors, extruders mix them with pellets. The formed pellets are then sent to the injection molding machine that involves the process of forming pellets into a shape resembling the final, desired one for the stretch blow molding machine. The stretch blow molding machine is used during the formation of bottles into their final shape. After plastic preforms are expanded to different sizes in the bottling plant, they are then sterilized and filled with water, before being capped, labeled and packed into cases for shipping to different destinations for consumptions (Foolmaun, & Ramjeawon, 2013).

The impacts of shipping are that the process consumes roughly 1/3 of delivering energy that is equivalent to 12 % of the energy consumed during the manufacturing stage. The costly process is the transportation of polymer resins to the bottling plant, and this is followed by beverage distribution to the end consumers. The two processes makes approximately 2/3 of the total transportation energy consumed during the whole process of shipping (Dhaliwal, Browne, Flanagan, Laurin, & Hamilton, 2014).

The Working Life of a Bottle

Polyethylene terephthalate bottle is the greatly used in the plastics used for the storage of soft drinks, including soda, juice, sports drinks, water, and they are in certain cases used for alcohol. Plastic water bottles are extremely light regarding weight due to their composition of lightweight materials that make shipment easy and helps in cutting down on fuel costs. There are also major costs associated with the lifecycle of bottled water, for example, Pacific Institute estimates that producing a single bottle of water requires about three times that same amount of water. Also, in areas where bottling plants are located, concentrated water extraction can lead to a drop in the water table, that can result in water shortages making local communities suffer. Transporting of bottled water also is assumed to consume about a liter of gasoline for every bottle of water that is transported. The transportation hence emits carbon dioxide, and this contributes to the effects of changes in climate. According to the study, locating reclamation facility in California and also increase the recycled quantity of plastic water bottles can cause reduced freight transport and transportation energy and hence lowering the level of carbon emitted (Nakatani, Fujii, Moriguchi, & Hirao, 2010).

It is unfortunate that most contents that are stored in the plastic bottles, for instance, water dissolves the plasticizers that are used to make PET semi-rigid and hence causes the human beings to consume the dissolved plasticizers. Plasticizers in the form of phthalates used in PET plastics are not chemically bound to the plastics, and hence they leak out under normal operating conditions for the bottle. Research has indicated that di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) under normal operating conditions leach into bottled waters from the bottles. Irrespective of the quantity of the phthalate leaching out, it is evidenced that these chemical substances show tendencies of endocrine disruptions even at a very small quantities. The endocrine disrupters have high chances of causing defects during birth and may also have a tendency of causing cancers. The US department of health and human services announced that DEHP may have high chances of causing and of being connected to the human cancers (Foolmaun, & Ramjeawon, 2013).



Recycling is meant in the life cycle of the bottled water containers to keep them out of waste streams. Bottled water containers after the content have been used in the hands of the end consumer may end up being recycled, reused or thrown away. Most plastic water bottles are made from PET plastic that is easy to recycle, but despite this fact, recycling rate worldwide is very low. The state of California has in times indicated a different in recycling through implementing programs that support recycling of the plastic water bottles, for instance, California Redemption Value (CRV) program. In the year 2009, California program managed to recover 73 % of all the water bottles sold in the state.  California, unfortunately, comprises only 12% percentage of the whole of US population hence indicating that the only a small number of about 25 % of the post-consumer PET plastics that is recycled in a year. The studies indicate that more than 75 % of the plastic water bottles end up in landfills or as garbage. The majority of the US populates believes that reusing the plastic water bottles and then recycling them is the best use of the plastics bottles. Individuals are advised to avoid using corrosive and hot materials that can be harmful to their health after re-using plastic water bottles. The bottles also require proper cleaning since they are likely to maintain bacteria causing health risks for the individuals drinking from them (Foolmaun, & Ramjeawon, 2013).


The life cycle of the bottled water has indicated that different processes that the plastic water bottles undergo before reaching the hands of the end consumers. The life cycle summarizes the costs that are incurred by the increased demand of plastic bottle water using the case of California states in North America. The life cycle of the bottled water container reflects the environmental impacts and human effects of consuming bottled water. According to the study, it is recommendable to all people to use tap water that will help in lowering the negative impacts that result from increased demand for bottled water. Also, recycling of used plastic water bottles is recommended since it will reduce the level of energy consumed in transportation and manufacturing processes.


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Dhaliwal, H., Browne, M., Flanagan, W., Laurin, L., & Hamilton, M. (2014). A life cycle assessment of packaging options for contrast media delivery: comparing polymer bottle vs. glass bottle. International Journal Of Life Cycle Assessment, 19(12), 1965. doi:10.1007/s11367-014-0795-1

Foolmaun, R. K., & Ramjeawon, T. (2013). Life cycle sustainability assessments (LCSA) of four disposal scenarios for used polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles in Mauritius. Environment, Development, And Sustainability, (3), 783.

Nakatani, J., Fujii, M., Moriguchi, Y., & Hirao, M. (2010). Life-cycle assessment of domestic and transboundary recycling of post-consumer PET bottles. The International Journal Of Life Cycle Assessment, (6), 590. doi:10.1007/s11367-010-0189-y)

Papong, S., Malakul, P., Trungkavashirakun, R., Wenunun, P., Chom-in, T., Nithitanakul, M., & Sarobol, E. (2014). Comparative assessment of the environmental profile of PLA and PET drinking water bottles from a life cycle perspective. Journal Of Cleaner Production, 65539-550. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2013.09.030

Simon, B., Amor, M. B., & Földényi, R. (2015). Life cycle impact assessment of beverage packaging systems: focus on the collection of post-consumer bottles. Journal Of Cleaner Production, doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2015.06.008