Many of us are now trying our best to reject single-use plastics whenever we can. Plastics can, of course, be very useful materials. But there is a range of reasons why single-use items, such as plastic bottles, have no place in our modern world. Thankfully, we have the option of saying no to plastic bottles and choosing reusable water bottles, which we can use and maintain for years. There are many brands out there, but we often hear the argument of “stainless steel vs. plastic water bottles” when it comes down to making a choice.
In this article, we'll explore the problems with disposable plastic bottles and talk about why reusable plastic bottles might not be the answer. We'll talk about whether stainless steel options might be better. Also, we’ll learn about some other recommended materials. Finally, we'll take a look at some of the best reusable water bottles on the market. From these options, you may find the most eco-friendly and ethical bottle for you.
There are, of course, several reasons why we should avoid disposable plastic bottles whenever possible. The reasons are both personal, and global. For our health, for our local and global environment, and the future of humanity, using reusable options is always the best option.
First of all, some plastic bottles are still not Bisphenol A (BPA) free. While BPA research is still ongoing, there are concerns that BPA in plastic can interfere with hormones in the human body. When you use certain plastics in certain applications, your reproductive health may be at risk.
Some plastics also degrade when exposed to sunlight and release harmful chemicals into your food. In early 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a health review after studies found microplastics (in the form of plastic fibres) in 93% of popular bottled water brands. Researchers found twice as many microplastics in bottled water as they did in tap water. Certain plastics may also harbour harmful bacteria when scratched or damaged.
Of course, the problems with disposable water bottles do not only relate to human health concerns. All plastic creation involves an immense carbon toll. Production of ethylene and all plastic items contributes significantly to global warming.
Manufacturers derive the needed raw material from finite and polluting fossil fuels. And dirty energy is often used to form materials and products. Producing plastic items also takes its toll in terms of other resources – like water, for example.
And then there is the problem of what happens to those disposable plastic bottles at the end of their useful lives. In the ocean, a plastic bottle can last for 450 years. So they are a problem which sticks around.
Every minute, manufacturers around the world are making more than a million plastic bottles. Globally, we only recycle a small fraction of these bottles. So many contribute to our planet's plastic pollution problem.
Reusable plastic water bottles are a step in the right direction. Of course, buying, keeping and using a single reusable plastic bottle for our water and other drinks is a practical action we can all take. Switching to any reusable water bottle instead of using a single-use bottle every day could prevent tons of plastic bottles littering the ocean. And you can save money too.
However, it is important to research our options carefully. And even when we do find the right plastic reusable bottle, it is still important to note that these still carry a significant carbon cost. And pose a health problem at the end of their lifecycle.
Plastic bottles tend to be strong and durable and are amongst the lightest and cheapest reusable bottles. Many are made from recycled plastics, and some are fully recyclable at the end of their useful lives. But recycling alone cannot solve the massive problems with plastic.
It is important to remember that 'recycled' is not the same as 'recyclable'. We cannot recycle most plastics endlessly. We downgrade the quality of these plastics every time we recreate them into something new.
Manufacturers often recycle plastic bottles, both single-use and reusable ones, into other plastic products. But these recycled plastic products cannot always themselves be recycled at the end of their useful lives. So this is something to bear in mind.
The other environmental costs of plastic bottles, and the fact that they can sometimes affect the taste of your drink, means that it may be better to turn to other reusable bottle options. Fortunately, there is a range of entirely non-plastic options that you can consider. So, let's take a look at some of the other common options.
When choosing a new reusable water bottle, it is a good idea to think about the materials that have been used to make it. When you stop to consider the life cycles of all the products you buy from beginning to end you can make the right decisions and buy ethically and as sustainably as possible.
Stainless steel is a common option for many reusable water bottles on the market. This is a strong and durable material too and can stand up well to knocks and scrapes. They will generally keep your drink cooler for longer, and double or triple-walled insulated bottles will help to keep drinks cool and prevent condensation on the outside.
However, stainless steel options also come with downsides. These bottles are often more expensive, heavier and bulkier than plastic alternatives. We need to wash most of them by hand.
Non-trusted sources for metal bottles may also lead to contamination with metals, which can pose risks to human health. Though stainless steel from trusted sources is generally inert and health-issue free. So, unlike with many plastic bottles, you can drink from one without fear of contamination of any kind.
Environmentally, creating stainless steel does come at a cost. But that cost to the planet and people is far lower than that of plastics. The material is long-lasting, and can readily (and continually) be recycled at the end of its life. It is estimated that around 80% of stainless steels are recycled at the end of their lifetimes.
You should know that plastic and stainless steel are not the only options to consider when it comes to reusable water bottles. Other options include:
Glass water bottles have similar benefits to the other reusable bottles mentioned above. You can see what you are drinking through the material, and, unlike plastic options, the material will not affect the taste of your beverage. However, glass is more breakable and usually more expensive than plastic. Most glass reusable water bottles have soft silicon sleeves to absorb shock and make them easier to carry.
Bottles entirely made from silicon offer something a little different. These flexible and foldable water bottles mean that they can be ideal for outdoor recreation. They are unbreakable and durable and carried in the smallest of spaces when not in use. Like glass and stainless steel, these products can also be 100% recyclable at the end of their long, useful lives.
Finally, you might like to consider bamboo water bottle options. Sometimes, bamboo is used to make semi-synthetic materials for water bottles. Sometimes, bamboo is used to line the exterior of a stainless steel bottle, or for bottle lids and accessories.
Bamboo is a particularly eco-friendly material to consider. Bamboo is a natural material. A stand of bamboo can sequester more carbon than a stand of trees and can be an effective and efficient use of land.
Bamboo uses less water than other natural materials to grow, and can help to protect and improve the soil while in growth. It is also biodegradable at the end of its useful life.
To help you decide which reusable water bottles could be the best option for you, here are some top picks to consider:
Constructed using sustainably harvested bamboo, stainless steel, and food-grade silicone, this simple plastic-free single skinned reusable water bottle is a clean and sustainable choice. Even the logo and bottom are embossed to keep the bottle paint-free.
There is also an insulated option with a double-wall vacuum insulated skin which will keep drinks cold for 20 hours or iced for 40 hours. This option is simplicity itself, just stainless steel, food-grade silicone and bamboo, with zero paint or plastic.
Klean Kanteen is a family-owned company. They introduced their first BPA free, reusable water bottle back in 2004. A certified B- Corporation, they not only create high-quality reusable products but also work hard to benefit people and planet, and reduce the negative impact of single-use waste.
Klean Kanteen on Amazon:
This is a reusable bottle that looks good – and does good too. The bottle has an internal stainless steel double wall, which keeps icy drinks cold for up to eight hours, and warm beverages and soups warm for around 4 hours. The design encases the inner stainless steel structure within a stylish bamboo exterior. And the bamboo is organic too.
One of the great things about WakeCup is that 10% of all profits go directly to the Marine Conservation Society and Plastic Oceans eco charity.
WakeCup also has a beautiful copper reusable water bottle. Slightly more labour intensive to clean, a copper water bottle can make water taste great. So if you've had issues with the taste of water from reusable bottles before, this could be a rather different option to consider.
Wakecup on Amazon:
If you are fed up with carrying around a heavy and cumbersome reusable water bottle with you, this could be an excellent option to consider. They make the Bübi Bottle from BPA free silicone. It is collapsible, flexible, easy to use and to clean. Made from 100% medical-grade silicone, this bottle is sleek, compact and heat resistant.
This company has partnered with Water.org and claims to donate a portion of the payment from each purchase towards this good cause. These bottles have been tested and approved by an internationally accredited agency, and are friendly for the environment and safe when it comes to human health.
Bübi Bottles on Amazon:
The all-stainless steel bottles from One Green Bottle are eco-friendly, easy to clean, durable and long-lasting. There are several different bottle shapes and sizes to choose from, so you are likely to find one which meets your needs.
One Green Bottle has been giving consumers an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to single-use plastic water bottles for over 14 years.
These versatile borosilicate glass thermos bottles are great for hot and cold beverages. Drinks come into contact only with stainless steel and glass, and they use pure silicone as the sealing material. These materials are, of course, entirely BPA free. Two built-in filters make these bottles flexible for a wide range of uses.
Sigg also offers a range of other bottles, including aluminium options. Sigg has been trying to use sustainable materials to make sustainable products for more than 100 years. The company currently uses more than 55% renewable energy to make its bottles in Switzerland.
The company claims that 99% of the small amount of waste from production is recycled. And the water used to clean the bottles is collected and recycled in a closed system. Thanks to the longevity of its high-quality products, they should have a significantly better CO² balance than disposable PET bottles.
When choosing your new water bottle, remember – it is important to think about the materials and the whole lifecycle of the product. Doing this will help you determine whether or not it is the most sustainable choice. The examples above are, of course, just a handful of the many eco-friendly and sustainable reusable water bottles on the market. There are plenty of other great options to choose from.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.