Single-use plastic bottles – a timeline

Bottling water isn’t a new phenomenon, but bottling it in plastic is actually more recent than you might think.

The need to carry and move water from the source to civilisation using urns, jars, barrels and the like has been around for hundreds of years. This was mainly due to the increase in popularity of spas and bathing for therapeutic reasons in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Even bottled drinking water has been around for over 120 years, Sanpellegrino was founded in 1899 and sold 35,353 bottles of water in their first year alone. But when did single-use plastic bottles come about, how did they get so popular, and what went wrong with their image?

single use plastic bottle lying on a beach

4 minutes to read

Inception and impact of the single-use plastic bottle

Believe it or not, single-use plastic bottles are actually a fairly recent invention.

In their short lifespan, however, they have made a huge impact on our lives. From their inception in the years after World War II, through the development and invention of new materials, to becoming a worldwide phenomenon and the large problem we are now experiencing.

Did you know?

● More than 1 million plastic bottles are sold per minute

● The production of 1 single-use plastic water bottle uses energy, emits toxins into the air and, amazingly, uses more water to produce that it will hold

● Single-use plastic items account for 40% of all plastic waste

● In 2015, water bottle sales out-paced soft drink sales for the first time (National Geographic)

● The shift from amazing convenience to curse has occurred in just one generation

Single-use plastic bottles: a timeline


Plastic and stainless steel were becoming more accessible as World War II came to an end.


The first plastic water bottles began to enter the market, along with stainless steel and glass.


The first McDonalds restaurant opened in California in 1940, but it wasn’t until the late ’40s that ‘throwaway living’ became all the rage. It was seen as modern and glamorous to be able to dispose of dishes and utensils over washing them up.

the site of the original McDonalds restaurant in California

The site of the very first McDonald’s restaurant in California. Its original name was “The Speedee Service System”.



Polyethylene began being used in water bottles. This significantly reduced production costs, making them more affordable. This new ingredient also made the bottles more lightweight and easier to shape.

NOTE: Many large soft drink manufacturers switched to plastic bottles due to low production costs and transport costs. They also favoured plastic because there is less likelihood of breakage during production and transport. Excluding wine and beer, the food and beverage industry has almost completely replaced glass with plastic.

Modern-day bottled water, loaded onto pallets for easy transportation.



Thermos and Aladdin begin to manufacture water containers with popular movie and television stars on them, appealing more to the general public.


Single-use plastic is being used by more and more big brands. Advertising campaigns always focus on water being within arm’s reach.

Late 1980s

Single-use plastic water bottles explode onto the market in New York after a number of prominent supermodels are seen carrying Evian water bottles down the catwalk. Marketing campaigns were focused on how water is good for the hair and skin, and that bottled water was safer than tap water. The campaigns focused on the need for water to be with you everywhere you went.


The year where sales of bottled water, in the United States, officially surpassed soft drinks The world began to take note (on a larger scale) of the effects this plastic bottle use was having on the planet. From clogging waterways to polluting the oceans and endangering wildlife.


With the rise in health consciousness and increased consumption of water, the single-use plastic water bottle is now seen as an ‘uncool’ fashion accessory. Now it’s all about the reusable options available. People are becoming increasingly aware of how the products they buy are made, and are consciously choosing more planet-friendly options (hooray!).

 The reusable water bottle is the new fashion accessory and status symbol.

Ditching single-use plastic – what can you do?

Any reusable bottle is better than a single-use bottle. But if you want to be extra-vigilant, make sure you’re choosing a responsibly-manufactured option for your new water bottle. A good first step is to read the values and sustainability statement of the company you’re buying from, before researching individual processes and materials. You should be able to get a good feel for whether something is “truly” sustainable this way.

It’s also worth remembering that tap water (in the UK) is safe to drink so mineral water is generally unnecessary here.

If you don’t like the taste of tap water, using a water filter in the home can reduce the taste-impairing substances that made you switch to bottled in the first place. Filters can also be recycled but make sure you check with your filter company for their recycling process.

What to do with single-use bottles that have already been produced?

There are a couple of options here. Recycling is one of them – most local councils have recycling facilities for plastic bottles. Another idea is ecobricks – you can find out what they are, how to make them and what they’re used for in our ecobricks article.

Can you really make a difference?

The short answer – yes! 

A really common theme amongst people who want to make a difference is that they feel “small” or “insignificant”. How can one person making a switch actually help? 

But, imagine if there are a million people out there thinking the same thing. If each of them made one small change in their life to live in a more green, eco-friendly way, imagine the collective impact!

Habits with impact – the Ailuna way

Ailuna is 100% behind helping people make small changes to the way they live, to make a positive impact on the planet. If you’d like to join our growing community and get started with building your own green habits with impact, you can download the Ailuna app now by clicking the links below.

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