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Reusable Water Bottles Options

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | August 23, 2007

We haven’t really written much here on Tiny Choices about bottled water issues yet, so until we talk about it in detail let’s just move forward from the understanding that single-use plastic water bottles are the modern plague of locusts (feel free to disagree with me in the comments below. And props to Denver for a supercool water conservation campaign. But I digress.)

So if we as a culture need to stop using disposable water bottles, but we as human beings still need to drink our daily fill, how are we supposed to carry around the blue gold? Rule #1 is that it’s about a gazillion times more ecologically sound to use what’s already been produced rather than to buy something new. So if you already own vessels which can carry water, and if they function well enough, then just use them. Because otherwise there’s a whole process of energy and pollution that’s going to happen for all but the greenest products, and it’s incredibly important to avoid this whenever possible. But sometimes you really do need (oh, come on, or just want) to buy a new water bottle. And for those times, here’s my short list of options. (Sometimes I think we spend way too much time thinking about these things. And when I say “we” I mean “me.”)

Glass Jars
Pros: Safe for you because glass doesn’t leach any harmful chemicals. Free, as you can repurpose jam jars or tomato sauce jars into a second life as your water bottle– and thus they are zero-impact for the same reuse reasons. They also have a certain farmhouse appeal that I really love, but maybe that’s just me.
Cons: Generally, glass jars are too heavy to carry around all the time–which isn’t necessarily a problem if you live a car-based life or if you have a sherpa. Also, they’re breakable.

Nalgene
Pros: The bottles are nearly unbreakable, which makes them incredibly useful for ourdoor activities. Their “Refill not Landfill” campaign to reduce disposable plastic bottles is admirable, even if it’s obvious what their motivation is. All the colors of the rainbow.
Cons: The Lexan ones (aka “the pretty ones”) are made from polycarbonate (plastic #7), which may/probably does leach bisphenol A into your body and mess with your hormones. The HDPE ones (plastic #2) are not known to leach, but, you know, they’re still plastic. The Nalge Nunc Corporation (makers of the Nalgene bottles) also produce plastic animal-testing medical equipment [warning: link contains sad photo of a trapped bunny rabbit]

Sigg
Pros: Made from aluminum (extremly lightweight) with a baked-on propriatary micro-thin epoxy liner which they declare 100% safe/leach-free. The bottles don’t absorb flavors from liquids, and I actually think that water tastes better from them (unscientific personal opinion). Backpacker Magazine (6/06) declared them “The World’s Toughest Water Bottle.” The bottle is in MoMAs permanent collection–fancy! They are recyclable at the end of their lifecycle. They are, by far, the prettiest bottles around.
Cons: The lid is made from plastic (polypropylene #5, which they say has no known leaching characteristics). Though the exterior paint is solvent-free, does that mean it’s eco-neutral? What’s the manufacturing process for that epoxy liner? Manufactured in Switzerland, so there’s a big carbon footprint to get ‘em over here, and aluminum is resource-intensive.

Klean Kanteen
Pros: The bottles are 100% stainless steel, which is an inert material, and thus no need for an inner liner. There is minimal printing on the outside of the bottles (and so minimal pollution from the manufacture/shipping/printing of those inks). They also make sippy cups for kids. The bottles are recyclable at the end of their lifecycle.
Cons: The outside of the lid is made from plastic (polypropylene #5, which they say has no known leaching characteristics). The inside of the lid is made from stainless steel, and here’s my problem with this–when I screwed the lid (metal) into the bottle (metal), this feeling and sound of metal against metal made my skin crawl–so although I think that Klean Kanteen is the most eco-option of the bunch I actually returned mine to the store for this reason–I realized I would cringe when it was time to drink, and thus might end up dying of thirst. Made in China, aka Big Carbon Footprint. And I’m pretty sure that steel mining is just as bad as every other kind of mining.

Reused Disposable Water Bottles
Pros: Free, because there’s lots of them.
Cons: There’s lots of them. Also, they leach toxic chemicals into the water and thus into you. Also, they harbor harmful bacteria after a few uses.

My personal water bottle audit: I’ve got a whole bunch of old Lexan Nalgenes which I still use for outdoor activities, bisphenol A be damned. I carry my pretty and lightweight Sigg bottle around for day-to-day use. And I occasionally do still use single-use disposable water bottles, but I really really try not to.

So what’s your water bottle habit look like? And do you think that we as a consumer culture are overthinking this whole thing? Or is it just me?

Photo courtesy of lukasd2009 on Flickr.com, via Creative Commons

Topics: Food, Waste | 45 Comments »

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45 Comments

Comment by Jennifer
2007-08-23 07:13:14

Everything is going to have some kind of eco footprint; we are part of an ecosystem and we will impact it, just as deer or rhinos will (however minor their impacts may be). I know the purpose is minimizing, but sometimes I feel like we are overthinking it.

That, and I also feel like we’ll never escape chemicals.

None of this is helpful discussion. Just pointing out the sometimes helplessness that I feel.

Comment by Karina
2007-08-23 08:50:45

I think it’s important to recognize that helplessness, though, and then to take a step back and take a little bite out of the problem. it’s so easy to be overwhelmed by it! but that’s why a little tiny choice sometimes can be so effective – not only are you doing something positive, but you also are doing SOMETHING, which helps get rid of that pesky helplessness.

 
 
Comment by Karina
2007-08-23 09:19:03

I love my sigg bottle. I have a bad habit of chucking things at the ground from 5 ft up and it has managed to survive admirably! it’s got lots of dings and the coating on the outside is coming off, but it is still in generally good shape.

Comment by Jenn
2007-08-23 10:31:26

I look forward to the day when my pretty new Sigg is as dented and chipped as yours. I love well-worn and sturdy objects!

Comment by Jenn
2007-09-04 22:01:23

Speaking of which, I dropped my pretty new Sigg about 800 times while hiking in Whistler. It’s a bit dented now and I love it. :)

 
 
 
Comment by Philip L
2007-08-23 09:36:55

At work, I re-use the Styrofoam cups I get from whatever fast food place I got breakfast from. That cup will last me months, and it keeps my water cold. I know styrofoam is bad for the environment, but I’m given the cup anyway and figure I might as well reuse it.

Comment by Jenn
2007-08-23 10:32:56

Hey Philip, check out this audit: http://www.ilea.org/lcas/hocking1994.html
It’s kind of frightening, actually. So it’s great that you take one cup and reuse it for a really long time– you’re actually probably way ahead of the rest of us on this one!

Comment by Karina
2007-08-23 13:41:43

but that’s including dishwashing energy – so if you use efficient dishwashing techniques then I’m sure the embodied energy of reusable cups would drop down further!

Comment by Karina
2007-08-24 09:28:43

oh my gosh, and don’t forget about the potential for styrene leaching from the cup into your drink with extended use – it’s an endocrine disruptor!

 
 
 
 
Comment by Leanski
2007-08-23 09:43:22

the fact that bottled water has a ‘best before date’ says it all really.

sigg bottle for me when out and about and just straight from the tap in a glass when at work or home

green confession – if i am on a roadtrip and only water option (as forgotten sigg bottle) is bottled water then i will make the purchase but then retain bottle and refill at home and keep in fridge for reuse

Comment by Jenn
2007-08-23 10:35:35

Just don’t reuse it too many times– starts to leach eventually (but I’m sure you knew that :)

Comment by Leanski
2007-08-23 11:36:26

just a few times and then into the recycling depot it goes

Comment by Karina
2007-08-24 09:30:20

forget the leaching, my friend had an uneasy stomach the week before his wedding and we all hilariously blamed it on nerves… but it turns out there were BACTERIA growing in the old soda bottles he used to keep water cold in the fridge with!

 
 
 
 
Comment by Alana
2007-08-23 11:31:19

Jenn,

This list is so useful! Thank you for breaking it all down for us. I have another type of water bottle to add and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. This corn-based bottle with built in filter looks like a single-use plastic bottle, but you can actually use it up to 80 times. It seems that you save money with this bottle, it’s good for the environment (corn-based) and it’s good for you because of the filter. Although I wonder if bisphenol A is present in corn-based bottles too.

Comment by Karina
2007-08-23 13:39:18

I haven’t seen anything that would indicate that BPA is in corn based plastics, and have seen some (industry) publications saying it’s non-toxic…

 
Comment by Jenn
2007-08-23 20:43:09

Alana–
I want to love this bottle. I really want to. And I think it’s a GREAT step in the right direction… but, I have a few buts about it… (and I ask forgiveness in advance for the length of this reply!)

1. It’s disposable– despite the fact that it can be reused without leaching toxic chemicals (and this is GREAT), it’s still not produced as a long-lasting object. Which means lots and lots of them will have to be continually produced to replace the ones that are disposed of. Why not just purchase a lasting object to begin with?

2. The Biota website (a similar bottle, sans filter) says that: “Given the right composting conditions including high heat, humidity and micro-organisms, a BIOTA bottle will disappear in 75 to 80 days…basically 12 weeks”, and that “A BIOTA PLA bottle will not degrade as rapidly in a home compost pile.” So the composting bit is great in theory. But they’re telling us that the bottle is not going to decompose well in a home composting system, and I don’t know of any commerical composting going on in the NYC Tri-State area. So these bottles are just going to sit with all the other bottles in the landfills, just hanging out together for a really, really long time.

3. What’s the filter made of? How does it recycle/biodegrade?

4. The corn used in these bottles is only partly GMO-free, and it isn’t organic. Am I just being petty now?

 
 
Comment by cat147
2007-08-23 13:04:10

i love my klean kanteen. i have the plastic lid though … buuuuut, it’s usually hanging from the side as i really like to gulp my water all day long. :)

nalgene … i read somewhere that you are not supposed to put these in the dishwasher … scrapes up the inside and makes it more likely to leach out the BPA?

Comment by Karina
2007-08-26 23:48:05

I’ve read that too! and no matter how many people tell me nalgene is made from a chemical resistant plastic (lexan) I think of my old job where we used lexan sleeves for sediment cores that were so contaminated the sleeves started to “melt.” um, yeah. chemical resistant is, as chemical resistant does!

I think there are other reasons to not put plastics in the dishwasher, though.. like, the heat? maybe that’s something else to investigate!

 
 
Comment by stacey
2007-08-23 16:48:51

I’m still on my nalgene – I have one big soft one (which is used most of the time), one big and one small lexan one. The lexan ones can actually hold hot drinks and, recognizing the limitations of the coffee cup holder on my bicycle, I do occasionally use it for that purpose.

My absolute favorite thing about the nalgene – and if I find this in a non-plastic bottle, I’m there – is that the lid is attached to the bottle. I need this function and the siggs & kleen kanteen don’t have that.

Comment by cat147
2007-08-23 17:28:39

kleen does … well, the plastic “sports” lids do … however, one drawback of the kleen is that it’s not as big as the big nalgenes. i guess it’s not a horrible thing to walk to the sink more often. ;)

 
Comment by Jenn
2007-08-23 18:07:22

Also, the Sigg and KK lids have holes in them, so you could just thread a cord through the hole and around the neck of the bottle… DIY it up!

Comment by stacey
2007-08-27 09:25:43

I’ve been thinking about that – playing with the siggs at the yoga studio, but I’m just not sure about it. I drink from my bottle when I’m on the bike and I absolutely don’t want a sports top and I need to be able to hold the bottle and be absolutely certain that the top isn’t going to fly off. The necks on the siggs don’t look small enough compared to that little lip where I can tie something on and have it super tight and secure.
What type of cord would you suggest?

Comment by sumei
2007-10-22 20:03:17

there is a thing called a Sigg Bottle Cat to keep the top connected to the bottle. i bought a sigg bottle for my mom, and it came with one of these.

 
 
 
 
2007-08-24 09:05:38

[...] Reusable Water Bottles Options [...]

 
Comment by Eric
2007-08-24 11:03:53

IMHO: The reason Stainless Steel Water Bottles are a better choice is that plastic is toxic, un-recyclable (unless you use it for non-food reasons, only 3-5% of all plastic is actually recycled) and will sit in a landfill for a few thousand years. Aluminum (Sigg) is one of the worst and most toxic metals to work with, and the bottles are still covered in a glaze of some type (I would love to know how safe it is once it cracks). Meanwhile, Stainless Steel is the most recycled metal in the world and easier on the environment in terms of it’s production than aluminum. The auto industry alone recycles more metal than it uses because older cars going out of production used much more metal than newer cars, so it’s very possible that your steel water bottle is actually made of an old Ford!

Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems that a steel bottle that you can use forever and then recycle when you’re done is by far the best way to go… and they come in all sizes and brands with many different price points.

Comment by Karina
2007-08-26 23:45:53

it’s all about making the best decision based on your needs, Eric! crazy doesn’t come into the equation (one hopes).

the inside of the sigg bottle is covered in a water-based epoxy, and according to the manufacturer, it’s highly elastic and dents should not crack or chip it. I hope not: my bottle is totally banged up! The outside is a solvent free powder coating, and some of the kleen kanteens have the same (I think) coating. my coating is chipping off, so I’m careful to put chips into the garbage to avoid litter.

I just read also that the kleen kanteen uses an electropolishing method to render the metal inert – which is a chemical and energy intensive finishing. I would like to find more information on this process and how well it’s regulated in china (where the bottles are manufactured).

your comment made me research the US auto recycling industry – i didn’t believe it, but according to (industry) sources 95% of old cars are recycled!

 
 
Comment by Guamaniac
2007-08-24 18:38:53

The “bacteria growing in the water bottle” is freaking me out a little bit. I have taken to reusing empty plastic water bottles, and have never really given much thought to the microbes that could be growing in it. I mean, it’s just water, right?

Anyway, how do you keep your water bottles clean? I’m leaving towards the Klean Kanteen for my reuseable bottle purposes, but what do you do to inhibit microbial growth?

Comment by Karina
2007-08-26 16:02:57

I’m not that personally concerned with bacterial growth. I’ll wash my bottle out with hot soapy water occasionally, and I know some bottle manufacturers sell specialty scrub brushes that will fit into the bottles. and knock wood, I still seem to be doing ok!

 
Comment by Jenn
2007-09-04 22:39:00

Yea, I’m not too concerned with this either… every once in awhile I swish around some hot water + soap in my bottle and then rinse and let dry… you know, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…

 
 
Comment by hannah
2007-08-28 22:44:59

I am reporting that I have been reusing glass containers, and find that they are not too heavy! I’ve used a green pellegrino bottle plugged with a reused wine cork, and now am using a maple syrup bottle with it’s own metal cap. I loved the green bottle, it came to a sad demise when I tried to pull the cork with my teeth while driving and bit half of it off and had to push the other half in to get the much needed water. Granted, I’ve usually got a few books and other heavyish items in my bag at any time, so the added weight doesn’t make a difference to me. The good part about glass water bottles is that they come in all sorts of sizes, and if you’re anything like me, there is rarely a shortage of corks. I’m pretty sure you can boil them to kill bacteria, also.

Comment by Karina
2007-08-29 06:59:04

I love the idea of you driving and trying to pull a cork out with your teeth! hilarious.

 
 
2007-09-24 14:17:35

[...] Kalloch asks: I read your post about the plastic drinking bottles, and other choices, and the plastic that “leeches” into the water, couldn’t get that picture out of my head… [...]

 
2007-09-27 14:03:21

[...] take on reusable water bottle options. While the author reviewed many of the same bottles that I covered in my previous post, she does cover a few new ones, and her ideal bottle turns out to be different than mine. Which [...]

 
Comment by Mike Panic
2007-10-04 23:00:42

I apologize if this seems like comment spam, you don’t have a “contact” page for me to get in contact with privately. I am currently running a contest inspired by BlogActionDay.org, which I am participating in, giving away a Nalgene Refill Not Landfill bottle to help cut down on plastic bottle waste. Thought you may be interested in it.

 
2007-10-23 02:30:41

[...] As are reusable water bottles… [...]

 
Comment by Roberly Hearsch
2007-12-20 17:51:57

Just buy a quart or half gallon or one gallon glass bottle of organic apple juice -etc. – and reuse and wash the bottle for-ever — put the glass bottle in a protective carry bag with some towel or what ever rubber banded on and you have solved all these problems you have all wasted time mulling over. I have apple water jugs i have used for years and years. Or just use mason jars –quart or pint size.

There is no safe container for alkaline ionized water but glass -and no one is making them that is any where near practical in price — so the above is the only solution i have ever considered easy and eco friendly

Comment by Jenn
2007-12-20 23:55:52

I do agree that reused glass containers are the greenest solution, for sure! But there are situations where glass can be a liability– a long exhuasting day (or 4) on the trail or at the climbing crag; while riding your bike (they won’t fit in a water-bottle cage) or swimming laps; while on a treadmill at the gym; etc…

 
 
2008-01-22 06:01:32

[...] written before about the sad but true fact that pretty Nalgene bottles most likely leach Bisphenol-A (a hormone [...]

 
Comment by Becca
2008-02-10 22:30:23

After doing quite a bit of online research, I think I am going to reuse the glass organic iced tea bottles I have. I have a safe place in my bag where I can store a glass bottle. For the times I will be sporting around, I will use the reusable plastic water bottles I already have. Thanks for the good information.

 
Comment by Evaine
2008-04-21 10:38:35

Good post. You make some great points that most people do not fully understand.

“So if we as a culture need to stop using disposable water bottles, but we as human beings still need to drink our daily fill, how are we supposed to carry around the blue gold? Rule #1 is that it’s about a gazillion times more ecologically sound to use what’s already been produced rather than to buy something new. So if you already own vessels which can carry water, and if they function well enough, then just use them. Because otherwise there’s a whole process of energy and pollution that’s going to happen for all but the greenest products, and it’s incredibly important to avoid this whenever possible. But sometimes you really do need (oh, come on, or just want) to buy a new water bottle. And for those times, here’s my short list of options. (Sometimes I think we spend way too much time thinking about these things. And when I say “we” I mean “me.”)”

I like how you explained that. Very helpful. Thanks.

 
Comment by Diane
2008-07-11 12:31:48

I really would like to use glass bottles but worried about breakage. I had read something about “sleeves? skins?” for glass baby bottles but don’t know if anything made like this for larger bottles. Does anybody know anything about these?

 
Comment by Camille
2008-11-13 11:40:55

What should eco minded communities do for events where we would like to provide water for guests? Little bottles of water are so much healthier than cans of soda but we are getting comments that we are being environmental pigs for providing? Any ideas?

Some ideas so far with the pros and cons:
1) Provide tap water in large containers with paper cups- Water is heavy for employees to transport. You can’t chill it in a large container. There are sanitation issues with cleaning and filling. There is still lots of waste with cups.
2) Encourage recycling of the small plastic bottles with a recycle bin close by.
3) Don’t provide any water. Expect everyone to bring their own.
4) Bottle our own tap local water. This will reduce our carbon footprint a small amount but still produces lots of waste.

 
2009-03-23 06:00:31

[...] we should go out and all start buying cartoned water – no, we should continue to use our awesome and trendy cute reusable water bottles. But this really made me refine my thinking a little: The creation and distribution of our box has [...]

 
2010-04-28 06:01:04

[...] TinyChoices was a glimmer of reality, Jenn and I were talking reusable bottles – and there was a promotion on reusablebags.com, so I made my first purchase: two Sigg bottles, one [...]

 
2012-01-04 10:58:05

[...] while we debate the merits of stainless steel vs. aluminum vs. glass, and worry over the type of paint used in the pretty design, and whether the [...]

 

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