If we want our bodies to work to their full potential then staying hydrated is essential. Whether we dedicate hours to physical exercise or spend hours in front of a screen, a lack of fluids will hinder the body’s capacity to eliminate toxins and give rise to common dehydration symptoms such as headaches, irritability and lethargy.
Investing in a reusable water bottle is an excellent step to remind ourselves to drink and reduce our waste of single use plastic bottles.
Refilling single use plastic bottles might sound like an earth friendly alternative, but is not advised by health advocates and can lead to concerns.
Here we’ll take a look at what materials to look for when purchasing a reusable bottle and how to choose the best bottle to suit your needs.
Why you shouldn’t refill single use plastic bottles
Most single use plastic bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET, they are not durable plastics and not designed for long term use.
Not only are these bottles difficult to wash thoroughly but repeated washing of PET bottles can cause the plastic to wear away, creating cracks where bacteria can easily proliferate and chemicals can be released.
One of the biggest health concerns surrounding PET bottles is that they leach BPA (bisphenol-A) when exposed to hot water. Bisphenol-A is an industrial chemical used in the manufacturing process of polycarbonate and other plastic products including epoxy resin can liners.
BPA has been associated with endocrine disruption in animal and human studies and is not really something you want running through your blood supply.
Which material should you choose?
There are 3 main materials to choose from when purchasing a reusable water bottle:
Each material has its pros and cons, there is no perfect sustainable option. To find which material is right for you will depend on the use you plan on giving your bottle. The best sustainable choice is not a one off purchase but a way of life.
Plastics used for reusable bottles are usually made of polycarbonate which contain bisphenol-A (BPA). They do give a faint plastic smell and flavour to their contents so if you’re fussy with smells these might not be the best option for you.
BPA free plastic bottles
Due to the widely known public concerns of bisphenol A, BPA free plastic bottles have been flooding the market as a healthy alternative, but BPA free does not necessarily mean safe.
Bisphenol-S and bisphenol-F are increasingly used to replace bisphenol-A under the belief that they are less likely to leach from plastics. Studies reveal, however, that these chemicals too can be found in urine samples of many people tested for it. (1)
Is an ultra-tough plastic and one of the newer materials introduced in reusable bottles. It is BPA and BPS free. Unlike conventional plastic reusable bottles, Tritan does not leave as strong a plastic smell and is more heat resistant.
As with other plastics, Tritan is not biodegradable, it can be recycled but will depend on the recycling facility that receives the bottle.
Pros of plastic:
✓ Light weight
✓ Shatter resistant
✓ Practical for children
Cons of plastic:
✗ Leaches chemicals.
✗ Not biodegradable (Plastic never truly breaks down but instead becomes microplastics).
✗ Plastic smell and flavour.
✗ Cannot store hot drinks.
*PLASTIC may be a good choice if you want a lightweight bottle for the gym or sports activities or if you are looking for a bottle that is difficult to break.
It is not ideal if you don’t like the smell of plastic or you need your bottle to store hot drinks.
Our favourite plastic water bottles
Camelbak Chute mag 0.75l
Stainless steel bottles come with a slightly heavier weight and price tag but are worth the investment.
These bottles are extremely durable and can safely be in contact with liquids without leaching the harmful chemicals linked to plastic. The production and recycling of stainless steel is less detrimental to the environment than plastic making it a more sustainable option.
Stainless steel bottles are easy to clean and do not rust. They can be used to store both cold and hot drinks, with many brands claiming to keep hot drinks warm for up to 24 hours (somewhat debatable).
The long life expectancy together with the shatter resistance properties of stainless steel make it an excellent choice for adventurers, athletes or the office worker on a tea break.
Stainless steel bottles can have multiple layers (walls) depending on the brand. The bottle’s capacity to insulate drinks well will depend on these layers so take the time to look at this before making your purchase.
*Tip: When choosing a stainless steel water bottle be sure to check the stainless steel is on the inside of the bottle too. Cheaper bottles come with an inner plastic liner which present similar health concerns as the average polycarbonate bottle.
Pros of stainless steel:
✓ More sustainable and durable than plastic.
✓ Shatter resistant.
✓ Easy to clean and does not rust.
✓ Can store hot and cold drinks.
Cons of stainless steel
✗ Weight and slightly higher price.
✗ Can dent.
✗ Heats up in warm temperature but many come with a coating on the outside of the bottle to avioid burns.
✗ Possible faint metallic smell.
*STAINLESS STEEL may be a good choice if you want to keep your drinks hot or cold and want a bottle that is hard to break.
It is not ideal if you’re a traveller concerned about weight restrictions for hand luggage.
Our favourite stainless steel bottles
Chilly’s stainless steel 0.75l
Klean Kanteen 0.8l
Aluminium water bottles are an alternative to the slightly heavier steel bottles. They offer resistance but in a lighter weight package, however aluminium is reactive to acidic liquids and is known for leaching. As a result, some aluminium bottles are lined with an epoxy resin than can contain BPA, defeating the whole purpose of choosing an aluminium water bottle over a plastic one.
There are brands which claim their linings are BPA free but most do not disclose the exact composition of the materials used.
Aluminium can be recycled but is energetically costly to produce. As it does not hold any environmental or health benefits over other materials, we do not recommend it.
Glass bottles are one of the most popular choices for zero waste shoppers. They do not leach harmful chemicals into your water when exposed to heat and the nonporous and impermeable qualities of this material prevent it from interacting with liquids and modifying their flavour.
Although glass is considered one of the most eco friendly options it can in fact take a single glass bottle up to one million years to decompose and possibly longer if it is in a landfill. If you do opt for a glass bottle try buying recycled glass as the closed-loop system from the recycling process creates no additional waste or by-products and has less impact on the environment.
Glass bottles are not shatter resistant which is why many are sold with a protective silicone or fabric sleeve.
Pros of glass:
✓ Does not leach chemicals.
✓ Does not give a strange taste to your liquids.
✓ Does not contain BPA.
✓ Relatively pure production process.
✓ Dishwasher safe.
Cons of glass:
✗ Can break.
✗ Can be heavy.
✗ Not practical for children.
*GLASS is a good choice is you are sensitive to flavours and aftertastes of plastic and metal containers.
It is not ideal if you’re a traveller concerned about weight restrictions for hand luggage or you want something that can be knocked about without concerns.
Our favourite glass water bottles
Blue water 500ml
How to care for your bottle
Once you have chosen your reusable water bottle, here are a few tricks to help you look after it and keep it clean.
Tip 1: Rinse out after each use using a brush to get into any areas which are hard to access.
Tip 2: Use baking soda and vinegar for a thorough cleanse. Let sit for a while before rinsing.
Tip 3: Clean the lid well. Some bottles come with complex locking systems which build up mould over time. Soak any parts of the bottle that cannot easily be cleaned with a brush.
Tip 4: Leave to dry with the lid off and store in a cupboard only once it is fully dry.
Tip 5: Follow the guidelines of your bottle. Not all water bottles can be placed in the dishwasher and some cannot be refrigerated because it can affect the vacuum seal.
Tip 6: When filling a bottle with hot liquids leave some space below the lid for the steam to rise.
A reusable water bottle is a great step to increase our intake of fluids and reduce our consumption of single use plastics.
The best sustainable decision involves not only selecting a safe material but bringing more awareness to how we use and consume. Treat your bottle well and invest in a bottle that is going to last, it will be cheaper for you and the environment in the long run.
New materials are always emerging and if you’ve found another material you think should be included in our list give us a shout, we would love to hear all about it!