Drawing of reusable water bottle
Agriculture and Sustainability,  Lifestyle,  Waste

Reusable Water Bottles – Aluminium, Stainless Steel, Glass or Plastic?

Alright, we all know single use plastic water bottles are the worst. Reusable water bottles are handy and make us look environmentally friendly, super kewl and fit (or maybe just the first one).

But now that everyone has jumped on the reusable water bottle train, there are a million products out there! There is glass, aluminium, stainless steel, plastic (conventional, recycled and made from plants). But which one is the best?! Well, I can’t answer that, but I can provide you with some information on each material so you can make up your own mind!

  Aluminium Stainless steel Glass Plastic
Health Aluminium is reactive with acidic liquids so aluminium bottles have to be lined with enamel or epoxy that can wear away over time and BPA is often a main ingredient used in epoxy. However, we all know that nearly everything is BPA free now so you probably won’t have to worry about that.  Perfectly safe. Generally made from good quality kitchen grade stainless steel. Perfectly safe. (See plastic types table below in Notes)

There are reports that plastics #3, #6, and #7 may leach unhealthful substances into drinks. Plastics #2, #4, and #5 are the healthiest plastic bottle options since they are not known to leach. These plastic bottles lack durability, making them a poor choice for long term use.

Environmental impact Aluminium cans also have a less-than-auspicious source. Aluminium is made from bauxite, mined from open-pit or dredging mines that have damaging environmental impacts. Australia is one of the world’s biggest exporters of bauxite, and bauxite mining threatens sensitive ecosystems, while aluminium processing is water and energy hungry and produces a variety of pollutants. Primary aluminium production accounts for more than 90 per cent of the total environmental footprint of making aluminium cans, according to an industry study. Mining and transporting stainless steel can be energy intensive. The transportation cost is less than glass due to its lighter weight but more than aluminium. When bottles are made from recycled stainless steel their energy use is reduced. Glass is also made from non-renewable resources – sand, silica and limestone. Although these are more plentiful and less environmentally damaging to extract than petroleum (plastic), glass bottles still swing the eco-cost meter to high during manufacture because the elements require energy to heat them to 1200°C
in a furnace. Like aluminium 40-70% of glass made in Australia uses recycled content, resulting in energy savings of 75% due to lower production temperatures.
Most plastic drink bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Like all plastics, PET is sourced from non-renewable petroleum and its extraction and manufacture leave huge carbon footprints. Although bottles containing recycled plastic are becoming more widely available, the majority are still formed from virgin plastic. In a comparison of all four options, conducted by the plastics industry, the plastic PET bottle has the lowest global warming impact, while aluminium cans and glass bottles had 23 and 40 per cent greater global warming potential, respectively. The analysis included materials and processes for production and transportation.
Durability Good Best Bad. Glass doesn’t degrade which is great though it is brittle. The bottle could smash and we all know dealing with broken glass is a pain! Bad
Recyclability Most aluminium cans in Australia are manufactured with 40-70% recycled materials, reducing environmental costs associated with production. E.g. The manufacture of cans with recycled material uses 90–95 per cent less energy than virgin aluminium. Aluminium is also completely recyclable in Australia. 2/3 aluminium cans are recycled and the quality of does not degrade when recycled like plastic. Stainless steel is completely recyclable. However, the quality of stainless steel never diminishes so you should never even have to throw it out! Glass is recyclable in most places in Australia. However if you watched four corners a few months ago you will know that Australia doesn’t actually recycle glass as it costs more to recycle then to buy new glass. It is instead downclycled into bitumen for roads. Plastic is not recycled it is downcycled. Only 24% of PET plastic bottles are actually recycled. What is recycled ends up as a lower quality product. This means that eventually the plastic will end up in landfill and will probably be in small pieces by then which can easily be swept into waterways. Plastic #2 is commonly recyclable, but plastics #4 and 5 are not recyclable in many areas.
Lifespan 80-200 years to break down in landfill Never – It will corrode into rust. 1 million years 450 years
Overall rating Okay Best Better Bad

The verdict

Okay so you might not have a better idea which material is better and really there isn’t a simple answer. Use the following steps when buying a reusable water bottle.

  1. Use what you already have. Have you bought anything in a glass bottle recently? Maybe juice or kombucha, just wash it and use that!
  2. Look for second hand (it’s not gross, chill out). Stainless steel and glass are the healthiest options. Stainless steel is the most durable.
  3. If you are buying new products, buy those that are made with recycled materials. Look for a brand that also has a charitable aspect, most do. =

Some great options: Klean Kanteen, Welly (built in tea infuser), S’well

I have a Yuhme bottle which I love. It’s a bio plastic produced from sugar cane. So unlike the other options above, it’s made from a renewable resource. It’s carbon negative meaning it actually saves carbon in it’s production. It’s completely safe for your health and toxic free. The company also donates six months of clean drinking water for every bottle produced. The only downside is that it is still a plastic meaning that though it is recyclable, it will eventually downgrade. My next bottle will be a stainless steel one that I will be able to keep for the rest of my life. 

 

Notes

Figure detailing types of plastic

Sources

Green living tipsGreen lifestyle mag, Aquasana, Bulletin bottle, Dr Karen S. Lee,

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