Single-use plastic bottle in ocean

Big water fuelling an even bigger plastic pollution crisis

New whitepaper finds sales of plastic bottled water will soar to 2.8bn by 2026 and calls for urgent action on the industry which is now a major contributor to the escalating plastic pollution problem.

A new report from Retail Economics has given a damning verdict on the bottled water industry, having found that the big water brands are set to grow by 10% over the next four years, and produce an extra 280m plastic bottles. The UK now consumes billions of unnecessary plastic water bottles every year, making them a major contributor to the plastic pollution crisis.

The research found that 10 million PET bottles of plastic water are being sold per day, which are wrapped in 1 million pieces of flexible plastic wrap – the latter of which is almost never recycled.

Single-use plastic bottles

The power of advertising

The power of advertising has made plastic bottled water sales skyrocket, despite the fact that tap water in the UK has been rated as excellent by Drinking Water Inspectorate. In the mid-1970s, UK consumption per head was equivalent to just one 330ml can, in 2021, we consumed a whopping 37 litres of bottled water per head, a total category growth in excess of 10,000%!

The research found that advertising campaigns around big water’s environmental credentials, sponsorship deals, and promotions directly contributed to the sale of at least 81 million bottles in 2022. With huge budgets to splash, and famous faces that front campaigns, it’s no wonder.

Single-use plastic bottles in supermarkets

Recommendations for the Government

The report outlines a series of recommendations for the Government, calling for action in a number of areas as well as the acceleration of existing commitments. The economic consultancy suggests a 10p charge for the mostly non-recyclable plastic wrap that covers 90% of the bottled water on our shelves, which could dramatically drive change in a similar fashion to the plastic bag tax.

It also recommends the Government review outdated legislation on bottled water, which is out of date and doesn’t account for the safe and secure drinking water available in the UK. Another key ask is for the Advertising Standards Authority and Competition & Markets Authority to undertake an immediate review of the explicit and implicit environmental claims and credentials proffered by bottled water manufacturers.

Single-use plastic bottles all piled up in landfill

Advertising encourages bottled water sales and worsens the plastic pollution crisis

Ultimately plastic bottled water has become a harmful and unnecessary addition to our lives, creating an untold amount of waste and worsening the plastic pollution crisis. The report's revelations about the impacts of advertising on bottled water sales show the industry’s ability to mask the damage it is causing and turn huge profits from a commodity that is free from a tap.

It’s important to remember that plastic bottles take about five seconds to make, five minutes to use, and a staggering 500 years to break down in landfill. It’s time the Government takes action on big water.

Download our whitepaper now

White paper download thumbnail


(PDF, 16.77 MB)
Download now

Related content

Headquarter_710x400 mobile image

News & Stories home

Return to the News & Stories homepage.

Single-use plastic bottle illustration

Bottled water. The marketing 'trick' of the century.

How did we reach a point where our planet is being destroyed by a plastic crisis, yet every year 3.5 billion bottles of water are still sold in the UK? The answer? We’ve been ‘tricked’.

Plastic bottle in the sea

Preventing a sea of plastic pollution

Plastic pollution has a disastrous impact on the environment, but could new schemes provide practical solutions to slashing waste.