Responsible Purchasing Network

Bottled Water: Overview

Welcome to the Responsible Purchasing Guide to Bottled Water Alternatives, designed to equip communities, purchasers, and stakeholders with the tools they need to reduce their bottled water consumption and switch back to tap water. The overview below provides a succinct summary of the Guide.

Due to a website glitch, online access to the Guide is reserved for RPN members only at this time. RPN members can log in on the column to the left. However, the free Guide is still available to download for members and non-members here or you may browse the online sections of the Bottled Water Alternatives: University Edition here. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Think Outside the Bottle! Corporate Accountability International

The Center for a New American Dream and Corporate Accountability International are partnering to reduce bottled water consumption and promote responsible alternatives for institutions and individuals.

On August 26, RPN published a NEW Purchasing Guide to Bottled Water Alternatives, which includes detailed comparisons of bottled water alternatives like filters, coolers, fountains, and reusable containers.

Join our free, online discussion forums to share tips and strategies for reducing and replacing bottled water use.

Social & Environmental Issues

Americans bought a total of 8.8 billion gallons of bottled water in 2007. According to one estimate, producing these bottles required the energy equivalent of over 17 million barrels of oil and produced over 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. This is the same amount of carbon dioxide that would be emitted by over 400,000 passenger vehicles in one year. Nearly 50 billion new PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles were produced in 2005 from virgin rather than recycled materials, producing additional greenhouse gases. In 2004, only 14.5 percent of non-carbonated beverage bottles made from PET were recycled. For each gallon of water that is bottled, an additional two gallons of water are used in processing. Many of these impacts can be easily avoided by switching to tap water, filters, fountains and coolers when necessary.

Best Practices

In a few short years, Americans have become dependent on the convenience of bottled water, so switching to alternatives can seem daunting. But institutional buyers can transition to tap water with relative ease if they use a combination of common sense, careful planning, and the best practices outlined in this Guide, such as the following:

  • Involve stakeholders in the process;
  • Measure bottled water impacts and project cost and environmental savings from switching to alternatives;
  • Upgrade bottle-less infrastructure such as water fountains;
  • Cancel or amend bottled water contracts and identify, purchase, and implement alternatives such as filters, fountains, bottle-less coolers, and reusable containers; and
  • After implementation, review the program’s effectiveness, report the results and recognize the efforts of the people involved in the effort.

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Cost, Quality, & Supply

On average, the cost to treat, filter, and deliver water to ratepayers in the United States is 0.2 cents per gallon – roughly 750-2,700 times cheaper than bottled water on a per gallon basis. For the most part, this water is also very safe. Over 90 percent of U.S. municipal water systems regularly meet or exceed the EPA’s regulatory and monitoring requirements. However, a wide variety of cost-effective water filters are easily available to remove contaminants when they exist. Compared to bottled water, water fountains save money, especially when installed in easily accessible, highly visible areas such as main hallways, waiting areas, and cafeterias. Bottle-less water coolers are another smart option, drawing water from the tap and eliminating the expense of purchasing bulk bottled water. Reusable drinking water containers have low lifecycle costs and have lower human and environmental impacts than single-serve plastic bottles.


A growing number of institutions are phasing out bottled water procurement and switching to alternatives. Their policies, which serve as models for others to replicate, typically:

  • Prohibit organizational purchase of bottled water;
  • Include phase out timelines;
  • Specify alternatives, such as filters, fountains, and bottle-less coolers; and
  • Include exceptions for emergency situations or when alternatives are unavailable. 


The EPA sets standards for public water systems. The leading standards for water treatment units (e.g., filters, treatment systems, chemicals) are NSF/ANSI standards 42, 44, 53, 55, 58, 60, 61, and 62.


Bottled water is environmentally damaging and wasteful. Given the wide availability of safe, low-cost tap water, and the wide array of appropriate and cost-competitive filters and other drinking water dispensing equipment, switching to tap water saves consumers money and dramatically reduces environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, and waste generation. A growing number of buyers, both public and private, are thinking outside the bottle and making the switch – providing models by which others can replicate their success. We hope this guide will ease your organization’s transition to bottled water alternatives while cutting costs and lightening your environmental footprint.

Creative Commons License This work by the Responsible Purchasing Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


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