Steel, Glass, and/or Plastic Bottles: What is the best choice?

How to determine the best choice for drinking bottles.

Earlier this year I published a three-part article series titled “What to do with all this plastic?” (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three), which looked at the global problem with plastics accumulating in different areas around the world and innovative concepts communities have adopted to help deal with the abundance of plastic products and manage the growing problem.

Some of the examples shared in Part Two looked at the creative reuse of plastic water bottles by communities in Uganda, the Philippines, and right here in Macomb County, Michigan. Plant pots, salt shakers, lighting fixtures, irrigation, and even walls for a greenhouse were concepts communities came up with. While the articles highlighted some steps international and local communities are taking to curb the plastic problem it also provided steps to help eliminate it from every day use. One of those steps is to simply carry your own reusable bottle, which we are seeing more and more of these days. In fact, traditional public water fountains are becoming equipped to refill personal water bottles as well.

But between steel, plastic and glass, which is the best? The truth of the matter is that there are pros and cons to owning each.

  1. Stainless steel bottles have a number of pros and cons. Typically, they last longer than glass or plastic because they are corrosion resistant, and do not leach chemicals when exposed to sun/heat. They are generally more expensive than plastic, as the cost to produce them is much higher due to being energy intensive. However, stainless steel is 100 percent recyclable. The best option for selecting stainless steel water bottles is food grade #304 or 18/8, which means there are 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel. Additional information on stainless steel water bottles can be found online.
  2. Glass is another option when choosing water bottles. Most of us know that just about every beverage tastes better out of a glass bottle or cup, but the downside is that they are breakable and less likely to last a long time compared to plastic or stainless steel. In addition, recycling rate is low and some public places do not allow glass too. However, in addition to tasting great glass does not leach when left in the sun/heat, but the cost of a glass water bottle is generally much higher than our other two options.
  3. Plastic seems to be the most popular reusable water bottle, although glass and stainless are gaining in popularity for the reasons listed here. Plastic water bottles are cheaper to produce than stainless steel and glass, which makes them very attractive for consumers. However, the recycling rate of some plastics is low and the life cycles are short too. Plastic water bottles often end up in landfills and can take nearly 700 years before they start to decompose. One of the biggest downsides to plastic water bottles is that they leach, whereas glass and stainless steel do not. Consumers with apprehensions over plastics leaching chemicals may want to review the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for more information, such as the use of Bisphenol A (BPA)-a chemical component often found in polycarbonate plastic. Some manufacturers of reusable water bottles do produce products free of this chemical and typically note that on labels or the item itself. In addition, plastics made with BPA will often have a resin code of 7 appearing on the item. 

Additional information on plastics and problems associated with it can be found on Dr. Lee’s website devoted to health and sustainability related challenges.

Whatever reusable water bottle you decide to select in the end will be of overall benefit to you and our environment too. Reusing a water bottle will help keep plastics out of landfills, reduce your urge to purchase beverages in plastic bottles, and in the long-run save you money.

Michigan State University Extension offers a variety of programs to provide expertise, education and development of communities throughout the state of Michigan. By specialists, educators, program coordinators, instructors and associates all working together across lines of specialization, great things can be developed and from the input from citizens of Michigan, relevant and life-changing programs will be delivered.