Greening your future, part two: plastic water bottles

The convenience of plastic water bottles can be very costly. Bottled water can cost as much as $200 a year depending on how many bottles you purchase.

The New Year is a time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. Making a ‘new year’s resolution’ is a way to identify ways to improve the future – whether it is for yourself, family, community or the environment. Reducing waste can impact all of these.

Bottled water is a growing convenience in all our daily activities because is quick and relatively cheap. However, there are several issues to figure into the cost of buying and using bottled water:

  • 30 million water bottles are thrown away annually in the U.S. and many of them still have water in them. The plastic goes to landfills where it can take as much as a thousand or more years for it to decompose. The water becomes part of the leachate that must be collected and cleaned before re-entering the system.
  • 1.5 million barrels of oil are needed to produce all the plastic for these water bottles.
  • There is some concern over BPA (Bisphenol A) that may be present in very low levels. BPA is a chemical used in the production of some plastics.

Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has broad authority over food (bottled water is considered a food) that is produced and delivered through interstate commerce. These regulations can be found in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulation (21 CFR) and they cover types of bottled water, processing and bottling and allowable levels of contaminants.

Reusable water bottles, such as stainless steel, eliminate these issues. There is no plastic, no chemicals and no discarded waste because they are reusable. You probably should have several – one for each family member and extras for guests, special trips or when they need washing.

Stainless steel bottles cost more to produce than plastic bottles or other reusable water jugs. But the benefits are recouped quickly:

  • Stainless steel lasts longer. It does not crack or get scratched. It is not affected by heat, sun or cold.
  • There is no leaching of chemicals especially when in the sun or a hot car.

Make sure the reusable bottles you purchase are stainless steel and not aluminum. Both types may look very similar; however, aluminum must have a liner to meet food grade product requirements. Stainless steel does not leach any chemicals so does not need a liner that can get broken or cracked.

The best type of stainless steel water bottles are #304 or 18/8 food-grade stainless steel. The type of steel will be listed on the bottle.

  • Keep stainless steel bottles away from heat as it may distort the shape.
  • Never put hot liquids in the bottle. There’s no liner or insulation and could burn hands or skin that comes in contact with the side of the bottle.
  • Use soap and water and a bottle brush to clean. Stainless steel bottles can go in the dishwasher but the high water temperature and detergent may dissolve or discolor any labels or designs on the outside of the bottle.

So drink up in a reusable water bottle. You will be improving your health and protecting the environment at the same time. For information about junk mail and how reducing it can help the environment, read part one of this series published by Michigan State University Extension.

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