The question of which is the healthiest make of water container is not so easily answered, as I discovered. Firstly, there are a number of variables to consider: degree of toxicity of the material which the bottle is made of, the impact on the environment of the material through recycling or embodied energy (the energy required to produce the material and product), practicality and cost, just to mention a few. Ideally, before drinking water became a costly science, we would have been drinking fresh, running water from a highly energized stream, rich with minerals, rendering the water itself alive and consequently, absorbable and usable to our cells. This is part of the current dilemma regarding drinking water in our modern age. We will discuss the health of our water itself in an upcoming blog, so stay posted, but for now, the question is how do we best transport it? Is it to buy one off bottles which we purchase from the store, or is better to have a re-usable water container or like many people, only drink water from a glass at home or at a cafe?
When we’re looking at reusable containers, we have a choice of these popular materials: plastic, stainless steel, aluminium and glass. There are other less practical materials, like a pig’s stomach, which might attract a few strange looks at the gym. So we will stick with the main ones. I have tabulated a list of variables for each material and then it will be discussed below.
|Variable||Plastic (hard)||Plastic (soft)||Stainless Steel||Aluminium||Glass|
|Weight||Light weight||Light weight||Heavy weight||Moderate weight||Moderate weight|
|Cost||Inexpensive||Inexpensive||Less Expensive||More Expensive||Inexpensive|
|Energy Intensity in production||Low embodied energy||Low embodied energy||High Embodied Energy||High Embodied Energy||Low embodied energy|
|Recyclability||Moderately recyclable||Easily recycled||Easily Recycled||Easily recycled||Easily recycled|
|Cleanability||Develops cracks, crevices and mold||One off uses (for the most part)||Clean and smooth||Clean and smooth||Clean and smooth|
|Toxicity||May contain BPA||No BPA
Contains other chemicals
|No BPA||Heavy metal or may have BPA lining||BPA and toxic free|
Plastics are categorized, arbitrarily, into 7 different groups by the International Resin Identification Coding System, for identification purposes only, not according to their degree of recyclability. Soft, single use plastic bottles fall into category 1 plastics known as PETE (polyethylene terephthalate). They have been shown to leach DEHP (Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate) after repeated use and is a probable carcinogen. They have a low recycle rate, around 20% and the rest goes to landfill, sewage and seaways. I have read the recycle rate to be as high as 47%, but even still, it is relatively low considering the high number of bottles sold each year. It is estimated the global market for water bottle usage in 2011 to have increased 41.8% since 2006 and to be worth more than $90 billion. In Australia alone, this figure was $544 million in 2008.
It took a massive 456,131 barrels of oil to produce the plastic bottles for the 250 million litres of bottled water drunk by Australians in 2006, and according to the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, created 60,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions through production and transportation, again not to mention where most of the bottles end up. So, that’s quite an ecological footprint stamping on our already fragile world. There’s got to be a better way than this absurd wastage.
That’s where reusable bottles start to make sense as an alternative. The reusable hard plastics fall under the category 7, which is almost like the ‘others’ pile; the ones that don’t fit into category 1 to 6. One of the common types is the hard plastics known as polycarbonates. These particular plastics have become controversial lately, due to the chemical Bisphenol A or BPA used to make polycarbonate and epoxy resins. BPA has been linked to breast and uterine cancer, an increased risk of miscarriage, decreased testosterone levels, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes and heart conditions. This is because BPA behaves like an oestrogen and attaches itself to their cell receptors resulting in hormonal disruption and potential health issues. To highlight the seriousness, in 2006, Europe banned all products made with BPA for children under 3 years of age. That’s enough for me to cross them off the shopping list. But the good news is, companies now develop BPA free hard plastic bottles, so these are the ones for me. Another popular type 7 plastic is Tritan copolyester for water bottles. They are BPA free and slick in design.
The only other problem I see with the plastics is the issue of wear and tear. They will leach more and more as they are put through the dishwasher and used over time. They will crack and split providing an environment for bacteria and fungi to proliferate. I have also seen mould grow around the neck of some older bottles. In addition, some municipals won’t recycle type 7 plastics, however the manufacturers will. This can create an inconvenience for some people without the kerbside pick-up option, so this needs to also be considered.
Aluminium water bottles are also popular, but need to be lined to avoid heavy metal leaching and poisoning. The linings need to also be BPA free, which most companies do now. Aluminium poisoning may lead to serious neurological degenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive dysfunctions.
Not everyone likes the metallic taste left in your mouth after drinking from some stainless steel bottles and that’s why they need to be made from high quality number 304 (18/8) food grade stainless steel with category #5 polypropylene BPA free caps and non-toxic paints. Wow, that’s a mouthful (no pun intended). Let me briefly explain what this means. The numbers refer to a 300 series basic alloy (sounds like my old BMX), with approximately 18% chromium and 8% nickel and .08% carbon. The nickel minimises corrosion. Generally though, steel doesn’t leach in to the water.
I think I’ve left my favourite until last. When I put water in the fridge in a glass container, it retains the freshness of the water without any question of leaching chemicals in to it. You can also add citrus such as lemon and it will keep for long periods of time. Glass is also easy to clean and cleans well with hot water, time and time again – it doesn’t seem to age. It is made from heated sand and lime, not crude oil derivatives, lessening our dependence on foreign and unsustainable oil, making for a healthier planet. It’s also easily recycled and easily produced with little embodied energy. The only potential issue with glass is that it can shatter into a thousand pieces, so it won’t be much good for kids – unless there is protection from shatter. There is a brand that makes the glass bottles with a silicone sleeve and a bpa free polypropylene screw off lid. They look great too. This is the bottle I will be giving away to a lucky winner.
Well, there isn’t really one. It’s up to you. That’s the beauty of a review. We get the information, expand on it, do more of our own research and see what best suits you and your family. Personally, I prefer the sound of the glass bottles, but I’ve never owned one. I have been using stainless steel from a good brand, but to be honest, I don’t like the taste of the water. I think the main thing is, if you use plastics, stay away from the single use containers, they’re a complete waste and make sure the other plastics are all bpa and chemical free, including phthylates and VOC’s (Volatile organic compounds). Stainless steel and aluminium are fine too; it’s a matter of personal preference considering all the variables and risks mentioned above. For me, I’ll be buying and trying out a glass bottle, unfortunately at this stage, they’re not manufactured in Australia, which increases their embodied energy. Until next time…
Thanks to Shop Naturally for donating the Lifefactory Glass Water Bottle for our prize. Shop Naturally have Australia’s largest range of safe water bottles online.
Link Shop Naturally to http://www.shopnaturally.com.au/
Link Lifefactory Glass Water Bottle to http://www.shopnaturally.com.au/glass-water-bottles.html
Link water bottles to http://www.shopnaturally.com.au/water-bottles-jugs-filters.html
Chek, Paul; How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy! Chek Institute, San Diego, CA, 2004.
Alonso-Magdelena, Paloma; “The estrogenic effect of Bisphenol A disrupts pancreatic β-cell function in vivo and induces insulin resistance” Environmental Health Perspectives Vol. 114, No. 1, Jan. 2006.
Hunt,Patricia;“Bisphenol A Exposure Causes Meiotic Aneuploidy in the Female Mouse” Current Biology, Vol 14, 546-553, 1 April 2003.
vom Saal, Frederick and Hughes, Claude; “An Extensive New Literature Concerning Low-Dose Effects of Bisphenol A Shows the Need for a New Risk Assessment” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 113, No. 8, August 2005.
Schonfelder, Gilbert et al.Parent Bisphenol A Accumulation in human maternal fetal placental unit Environmental Health Perspectives Vol. 110, No. 11, Nov. 2002.