How much oil is used to make PET plastic water bottles?


Plastic bottles do not sink in water and does not biodegrade easily, and have become the most visible and therefore an easy target of environmental activism. It is obviously a great idea to do everything we can to protect our environment and resources. We strongly believe in that. Political policies and popularized media reports and well-meaning blogs let alone TV commercials, however, are not always based on truths and facts. Contrary to popular belief, the entire bottled water industry consumes a fraction of world’s oil production. Moreover, the plastics that is petroleum derived is made from waste refinery streams using the following feedstock:

  • Naphtha, an intermediate hydrocarbon liquid stream derived from the refining of crude oil, which can’t be used in internal combustion engines, 70% of which is used for plastics
  • Propene, also known as propylene or methylethylene, is a byproduct of oil refining and natural gas processing by fluid catalytic cracking, which can’t be sold in propane tanks
  • Benzene, a natural constituent of crude oil, which is removed from the gasoline supply to meet mobile source air toxics (MSAT) regulations

Statistically, less than 4% equivalent of world’s aggregate oil is used in making all plastics. Less than 35% of the plastics is used to make packaging. Of this, 1.2% of plastic packaging is used to make PET plastic drinks bottles. Bottled water constitutes less than 30% of PET plastic drink packaging segment. In summary, entire PET plastic bottled water industry in the world requires less than 0.04×0.35×0.012×0.3=0.0000504 (or 0.00504%) of world’s oil.

Furthermore, only a minority portion (around 13%) of the plastics produced in the USA is petroleum derived, while the rest is made from waste byproducts of natural gas processing. PET is polyethylene terephthalate, the most common type of polyester, made from ethylene (via ethylene glycol) and purified terephthalic acid. Ethylene is produced in the petrochemical industry by steam cracking in which saturated hydrocarbons from the feedstock such as naphtha are broken down into smaller hydrocarbons. Terephthalic acid is produced from an aromatic hydrocarbon feedstock such as benzene. 75% of plastic is made from ethylene, 20% from propylene (8% petroleum-derived), and 5% from petroleum-derived aromatics. These are derived from centralized plants that process ethane (2-carbon chain, natural gas waste byproduct, over 70% of primary plastic source material), propane (3-carbon chain), and naphtha (5, 6-carbon chain), and from refinery derived propylene. Ethylene is 85% made from natural gas liquids, primarily ethane.

Bottom line: PET plastic water bottle is one of the most effective and inert carbon capture & sequestration methods from refinery streams and natural gas processing byproducts, with one of the lowest lifecycle energy cost and environmental footprint among the major product packaging materials, and as such they should be properly disposed of (i.e., stored at landfills), recycled, or reused. PET plastic water bottles require a tiny fraction of world’s oil, and most of that is made from waste refinery byproducts.  We strongly support and promote recycling and upcycling as well as fact based utilization of natural resources and technologies.

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