Plastic Production and Water Consumption

Today is World Water Day, a critical time to work together to accelerate change to solve our global water crisis. And because water affects us all, everyone needs to take action. That includes the life sciences community and its role in contributing to water pollution and consumption.


At Grenova, we encourage labs around the world to do their part to solve the water and sanitation crisis by taking a look around their work environment and observing the single use plastic consumables that fill our labs. Plastic has become omnipresent in our labs and throughout society at large due to its exceptional usefulness. Often making life more convenient and even safer, plastic unfortunately has significant environmental ramifications, from its production to disposal, resulting in a large ecological footprint and substantial expenses.


One place micro and macro plastics often end up is in waterways.


Since its inception in the 1950s, it’s estimated that a total of 8.3 billion metric tons of virgin plastic has been produced globally, with the majority ending up in landfills and the natural environment, while only 9 percent was recycled. A growing body of research has been conducted to study where plastic goes once it is thrown away. One place micro and macro plastics often end up is in our waterways. 





Less studied is plastic’s significant water footprint, which is the amount of water that is consumed from the extraction of petroleum-based raw materials that make up plastic to the creation of the final product. To fully understand the amount of water used in plastic production, both the “blue” and “grey” water footprint components must be considered. The blue water footprint accounts for the water consumed during the drilling, refining, and manufacturing of the oil and natural gas, while the grey water footprint accounts for the water required to reduce pollution during production. Water is often used to cool down machinery during manufacturing. If it discharged into waterways, it is considered thermal pollution, so cooling water is added to reduce the temperature of discharged water to meet the standards of the water body into which the run off is released. 
For Polyethylene terephthalate plastic (PET), which makes up 10.2 percent of global plastic production, the estimated blue water footprint of the raw material to resin steps was 2.64 gallons of water per pound. Surprisingly the grey water footprint caused the water footprint to jump to a total of 28 gallons per pound. Based on these numbers, it takes about 1.4 gallons (5.3 liters) of water to produce a typical single-use water bottle. With billions of tons of PET plastic produced worldwide, the total water footprint for PET plastic amounts to a staggering 91.8 billion cubic meters. These findings highlight the need for sustainable water management practices in plastic production and consumption to minimize the impact on our planet’s finite water resources.
One way to limit water consumption is to reuse plastic. This is especially important in the lab setting. Grenova offers benchtop, automated pipette tip washers that allow for repeated reuse of tips without compromising results. Grenova has calculated that just under 9 liters of water is needed to wash one rack of pipette tips, which is approximately 15 water bottles worth of plastic. In terms of water bottles, that’s approximately 70 liters of water saved by washing versus producing new plastic tips and the water used during washing is safe to go down the drain!

Plastic is undoubtedly a valuable material with numerous benefits, but its impact on the environment cannot be ignored. The staggering amounts of plastic waste in our landfills and oceans, along with its presence in our bodies, demand urgent action to reduce our dependence on plastic and increase recycling efforts. The importance of sustainable water management practices in plastic production and consumption cannot be understated. Grenova offers innovative solutions to reduce plastic waste and water consumption in the laboratory setting. We must make conscious choices to reduce our plastic consumption, recycle, and reuse wherever possible to ensure a healthier planet for future generations. Let’s commit to make World Water Day every day.

Learn more about Grenova‘s efforts to reduce plastic, and to effectively address the water crisisthrough green technology that allows labs to reuse plastic consumables again and again:

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