Potential environmental impacts of Water Consumption: A Comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment of Tap Water and Mineral Water in Germany

Main Presenter:    Christoph Meili 

Co-Authors:   Niels Jungbluth                                               

Objective: This study investigates the environmental impacts associated with the consumption of tap water and mineral water in Germany through a life cycle assessment, adhering to ISO standards. The analysis encompasses the entire water supply chain, including water extraction, treatment, packaging, transportation, and potential pre-consumption storage or treatment.

Methods: Utilizing statistical data from water suppliers and publicly available information on mineral water production, scenarios were developed to compare the potential environmental impacts of various water consumption patterns, such as chilled and unchilled, still and carbonated. The focus is on the water’s function as a thirst quencher. Environmental impacts were assessed using the environmental footprint method 3.1 (Andreasi Bassi et al. 2023).

Results – Tap Water: The analysis of tap water provision identified electricity consumption (primarily for pumping), infrastructure, and raw water extraction as key contributors to potential environmental impacts. Direct emissions to water and air accounted for additional impact. The study expanded to include potential environmental burdens related to in-home water consumption.

Results – Mineral Water: For mineral water provision, electricity and natural gas requirements during bottling were major contributors to potential environmental impacts. Additional factors included infrastructure, water usage, and packaging. The study extended to consider potential environmental burdens associated with household consumption, including bottle production, transportation, and storage.

Comparative Analysis: Comparing different water variants, tap water consistently demonstrated significantly lower potential environmental impacts across all considered categories and scenarios. Even in the best-case scenarios for mineral water, where factors like optimal packaging and local transportation were considered, tap water remained environmentally preferable.

Conclusion: In all scenarios, tap water emerges as a more environmentally friendly option compared to mineral water, especially as the distance of mineral water transportation increases. The results hold true across various environmental impact categories and packaging options. The study encourages environmentally conscious water consumption practices, suggesting that drinking tap water directly and refraining from cooling can minimize potential environmental burdens. Additionally, for those who prefer carbonated water, using a soda maker to carbonate tap water is considered a more eco-friendly option than purchasing pre-carbonated mineral water. These findings provide practical insights for consumers seeking to make sustainable choices in their water consumption habits.

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